United Nations Security Council
Open debate on Water, Peace and Security
Statement by H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldives
to the United Nations
United Nations, New York, 21 November 2016
Let me begin by thanking, from the outset, the Senegalese Presidency for organizing this Open Debate on "Water, Peace, and Security". For small island developing countries such as the Maldives, this is especially an important issue that merits discussion.
The briefers who have spoken today have already painted a striking picture of the gravity of the increasing pressures being placed on both limited water supplies, and on national authorities to meet this growing demand. They have highlighted the need for cooperation at the national, regional and global levels to counter the potential threats to international peace and security.
As a country comprising 1,192 islands across twenty-six atolls, at first glance it would seem that the water supply would be the least of the Maldives' problems. Indeed, we in the Maldives have long spoken of the threat posed by too much water—in the form of rising sea levels—far more than we have of too little. Being seawater, however, the oceans by which we are surrounded are not suitable for human consumption or agricultural use.
Traditionally, our water needs have been met by rainwater and the limited amounts of groundwater accessible by wells, but rising population and increased urbanization has meant that these sources are no longer sufficient to meet demand, and today, much of the water consumed in the Maldives come from desalination.
Furthermore, while groundwater supplies are recharged by rainfall, environmental pollution and waste mean that this water often becomes contaminated and must be treated before consumption, adding to already-high costs and likewise creating dependence on water treatment plants.
The vulnerability of small island developing states in relation to water is immense. In the Maldives for example, during the dry season, desalinated water has to be supplied from the Capital to far-flung islands, ramping up costs and logistical difficulties for the Government.
Similarly in much of the Pacific this year, draught largely caused by naturally occurring phenomenon El Nino, of which climate change exacerbates the effects and impacts, wreaked havoc on agricultural lands and livelihoods, impacting water and food security. It is often the case that the countries that are most affected are the least able to cope to the impacts and therefore most in need of support and partnerships in this regard.
These unique constraints, however, have led my country, the Maldives, to explore compensatory practices and proactive responses to service interruptions. When a fire shut down the sole desalination plant in the capital island, Male' in 2014, for example, the Government responded by distributing bottled water, water from temporary desalination plants , and from mobile water-carrying vehicles, with special care taken to address the needs of vulnerable and at-risk populations. This was a huge cost to the Government, but we were fortunate to have the assistance of our international partners.
In 2014, the Government established the Male' Water Crisis Management Fund, with a view to deal with future crises and strengthen the resilience of the existing system. Additionally, we found that in that crisis, regional cooperation, as well as support of the international community at large was necessary in helping the Government meet peak demand during the water shortage, and for contributing to the Fund.
The lessons from our experiences are threefold; first, robust national mechanisms should be in place to meet water needs in times of demand spikes or supply shortages. The most effective measure in this regard is to ensure the regular water supply system is resilient, and where possible, decentralized and utilizes a variety of sources; that being said, clear steps should be in place for times of crisis.
Second, international cooperation and the sharing of best practices can provide much-needed insights and assistance in dealing with the challenges of meeting national water needs. The Security Council and the General Assembly can serve as invaluable fora for the exchange of relevant knowledge and policy tools. Water, by nature, is a cross-border, inter-continental force, and thus requires truly international approaches and solutions.
Third, the issue of the water supply extends beyond the immediate issue of water. Climate change threatens to significantly reduce already strained sources of fresh water in regions all over the world. If we are to meet the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, it is imperative upon us to effectively stem the pace of climate change and related water depletion. On a more local level, small-scale pollution, salinization and poor sanitary measures can threaten the quality of existing water supplies and necessitate costly treatment. Awareness, and education in water and sanitation including management of services ,can thus have a larger-than-expected effect on water supply.
By taking these various elements into account we may bring our nations closer to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals' targets on water, and, in doing so, build more resilient, secure, and peaceful societies. Today, it is an integrated, coordinated and holistic approach – one that spans the traditional divide between security and peace, development and humanitarian - that is required to meet the changing, and multi-faceted nature of challenges of our times.
I thank you.