United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General addresses first Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Beppu, Japan

On 3 December, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koďchiro Matsuura, addressed the first Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Beppu, Japan, alongside nine Heads of State and Government from the region.

He also attended the opening ceremony, where speeches were delivered by His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan; His Royal Highness Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and Chairman of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation; the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr Yasuo Fukuda; the former Prime Minister of Japan and Chair of the Steering Committee of the 1st APWS, Mr Yoshiro Mori; and the Chair of the Governing Council of the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, Professor Tommy Koh. The two-day event was organized by the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, and hosted by the Japanese Government and the Oita Prefecture.

In his address, the Director-General focused on the four main pillars of UNESCO’s freshwater action, all of which are well anchored in the Asia-Pacific region, and can make an important contribution to tackling its formidable water challenges.

The first pillar is the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), which UNESCO took the lead in establishing in order to provide a more coherent approach to freshwater issues within the UN system. “Before WWAP, UN action in freshwater tended to be fragmented and poorly coordinated. Now, under the Programme, the 24 UN agencies and bodies engaged in freshwater action are working together to monitor changes in the state of world water resources, and to identify the policies needed to reverse unsustainable practices and negative trends. UNESCO is very proud to host the Secretariat of this UN system-wide endeavour”, the Director-General said. Mr Matsuura drew particular attention to WWAP’s most important product, the triennial World Water Development Report. He explained that the third edition, to be launched at the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul in March 2009, would focus on the theme of “Climate Change and Water”. Experts from Asia and the Pacific are actively involved in the collective process of producing the Report, which is expected to make a major contribution to international scientific knowledge on water and climate change, including the work of the IPCC. “Its findings and recommendations will be of vital interest to the Asia-Pacific region”, the Director-General said.

Introducing the second pillar of UNESCO’s water activities, the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), the Director-General highlighted the important role of the regional network of IHP National Committees in helping countries build the scientific, technical, institutional and human capacity they need to address water challenges. “Since no one country can solve these problems alone, effective mechanisms for joint regional research, like IHP, are vital”, Mr Matsuura argued.

With respect to the third pillar, the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, the Netherlands, the Director-General pointed out that nearly 60% of the 14,000 alumni of this water education facility – the largest in the world – came from the Asia-Pacific region. Mr Matsuura went on to pledge that UNESCO-IHE stands ready to expand its educational services in order to respond more effectively to the tremendous needs faced by countries in Asia and the Pacific. The Institute has already taken the lead in developing a Network of Regional Water Knowledge Hubs for knowledge sharing and capacity-building on key water sector issues.

The final pillar of UNESCO’s work is the network of seventeen water-related centres that operate under its auspices. Seven of these centres are located in Asia and the Pacific, helping to serve major regional and global needs through capacity development and networking. Mr Matsuura drew particular attention to the International Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management (ICHARM) in Tsukuba, Japan, which is the lead organization for the Summit’s priority theme of water-related disaster management. Together with the Asian Development Bank, the Centre is currently working on a joint programme proposal devoted to Water and Disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Director-General concluded with what he described as a special message from UNESCO: “We have always maintained that in order to manage water in a sustainable way, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach. In the past, technology and the natural sciences have determined approaches to freshwater management. However, it is increasingly apparent that a more integrated strategy is called for – one that recognizes the complex socio-cultural and biophysical factors that influence how water is perceived, used and managed. This is particularly important in Asia and the Pacific, a region rich in cultural diversity, and with a long history of experience in dealing with water as a fundamental aspect of human life”. The Director-General said that UNESCO looked forward to working with partners at the Summit to promote a fully interdisciplinary approach to water issues, referring to the UNESCO “SWITCH Project” for urban water management, coordinated by UNESCO-IHE, as a flagship example of the Organization’s integrated and interdisciplinary approach to water. In this regard, he proposed a specific “SWITCH-Asia” project, devoted to developing sustainable urban water management strategies for the region’s cities, and called for participants to give their support.

The Director-General urged that the outcomes of the Summit be channelled into the process that leads up to the Fifth World Water Forum in 2009, so as to enable the Asia-Pacific region to help shape the global water agenda. “Together, we must and can find the solutions, and effect the changes needed to make the planet a healthier, safer, and more peaceful place for everyone”, he enjoined

During his stay in Beppu, the Director-General spoke with the His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and the Prime Minister of Japan. He also had a bilateral meeting with the President of Tajikistan, Mr Imomali Rahmon to discuss the country’s growing cooperation with UNESCO, in particular within the areas of culture and freshwater. He also met with: the President of the Republic of Palau, Mr Tommy Esang Remengesau Jr; the President of the Republic of Kiribati, Mr Anote Tong; the President of the Republic of Nauru, Mr Ludwig Scotty; the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, Mr Emanuel Mori; the Prime Minister of Niue, Mr Mititaiagimene Young Vivian; the Prime Minister of Tuvulu, Mr Apisai Ielemia; and the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Mr Lyonpo Dr. Kinzang Dorji.

Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 187-2007 -  Publication Date: 06-12-2007

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