The first UNESCO International Water Conference, which aims to present innovative solutions to problems related to the governance and management of water, opened here on Monday.
The event brings together ministers from 37 countries, as well as experts, researchers, representatives of civil society, the private sector and international organizations.
According to UNESCO, almost all human activities depend on water, be it food production, energy generation, industry or even recreation. Water management and governance affect the health of humans and ecosystems, and reflect the conditions of gender equality, education and cultural diversity of a region. Water resources are critical to sustainable development and poverty reduction.
"Water is a global issue that requires a multilateral approach. About 90 percent of the world's population depends on transboundary waters, whether rivers, lakes or aquifers," said Audrey Azouley, director general of UNESCO. "Access to water is absolutely indispensable to our collective agenda for sustainable development, but it is much more than that. Above all, it's a fundamental right and an instrument of peace and security in the world."
However, water management is not on a sustainable track in the world, Azouley said. "More than 2 billion human beings do not have access to water at present. In the future, by the year 2050, their number could reach 3 billion."
Liu Zhenya, chairman of the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDCO), said that the development and utilization of the world's water resources face three major challenges today.
First is the low exploitation rate of hydropower. The world's technically feasible hydropower potential is estimated at 16,000 TWh, of which 4,200 TWh have been harnessed so far. The 27 percent utilization rate results in wasting large amounts of hydropower resources.
Second is the shortage of fresh water supply. More than 20 percent of the world's underground aquifers are overexploited, leaving 2 billion people short of clean water supply and 3.6 billion at risk of potential water shortage (of about one month a year). Water shortage is particularly acute in West Asia and North Africa, and in almost all Arab states.
Third is severe water pollution. Over 80 percent of the world's waste water is discharged untreated, and the water quality of most rivers in Africa, Asia and south America has been deteriorating for a long time now.
Liu said that building a global energy interconnection (GEI) system will transform the energy development pattern and accelerate clean and low-carbon development, which not only provides a fundamental solution to the energy issue but also a new path to resolve the issue of water resources.
Serigne Mbaye Thiam, minister of water and sanitation of Senegal, emphasized the need to accelerate international development action and to achieve the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.
GEIDCO, founded in March 2016, currently has 635 members in 93 countries and regions. It has synergized with major UN initiatives and launched action plans at UN conferences, including the "Global Energy Interconnection Action Plan to Promote the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;" the "Global Energy Interconnection Action Plan for Promoting the Implementation of the Paris Agreement;" and the GEI Action Plan for Promoting Global Environmental Protection," providing important plans and action roadmaps for GEI construction and the sustainable development of various countries.