Opening remarks by Mr. Frederick Lyons, UN Resident Coordinator in the Russian Federation, at a meeting on the "International Year of Freshwater - a Milestone on the Road towards the Achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals", Thursday 27 February 2003.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to the author D.H. Lawrence, writing in England at the start of the last century, "water is H2O, two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, but there is also a third thing that makes water and nobody knows what that is." We all know that water is a critical resource for the biosphere, human endeavours and even our own body chemistry. But perhaps more simply, where there is water, there is also that third thing - life.

The use of water has increased over the past few decades, and in many places its availability is falling to crisis levels. More than eighty countries, with forty percent of the world's population, are already facing water shortages, and it is worth remembering that by the year 2020 the world's population will have doubled. The costs of water infrastructure have risen dramatically. The quality of water in rivers and underground has deteriorated, owing to pollution by waste and contaminants from cities, industry and agriculture. Ecosystems are being destroyed, sometimes permanently. 1,2 billion people do not have access to safe water, and approximately 3 million people die each year of diseases associated with the use of unsafe water.

Nominating 2003 the UN International Year of Fresh Water is therefore very timely, following the global consensus on the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 and in the wake of commitments made at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August-September 2002.

World leaders have agreed to halve the number of people who are unable to access safe drinking water, and who are without access to basic sanitation services, by 2015. This will call on the will, the financial resources, and above all the imagination of governments and people. It is a matter for both developing and developed countries to bring to an end the irrational, unsustainable patterns of freshwater use and to improve their water resource management practices.

The Russian Federation has vast supplies of freshwater, not always in the right place, or moving in the right direction, but they nevertheless give Russia direct responsibility for a significant proportion of the world's freshwater resources. Russian agencies are taking measures to strengthen the country's stewardship over this precious resource. For example, steps taken to protect the waters of Lake Baikal by the passing of a federal law two years ago have helped to highlight the growing concern of the government. Efforts are underway to provide for better irrigation, an agriculture less dependent on high intensity fertiliser and pesticide use, and a more efficient chemicals industry. New investments are being made in water infrastructure and services.

But there are still key decisions to be made in areas such as pricing, and pollution control. It is a matter for considerable concern that such a high proportion of the urban water supply is contaminated in one way or another. As reform and change progress, sustainable water management will need to be integrated with other complex initiatives: broad based economic development and investment promotion, poverty reduction, and environmental protection. Efforts will need to be carefully coordinated to include multiple stakeholders from all the appropriate sectors.

With this in mind, I am very pleased to open this preparatory meeting of Russian stakeholders in the run-up to the World Water Forum to be held in Kyoto, Japan, next month. I hope that today's meeting will allow us to consider a wide range of social and economic issues relating to freshwater management within the framework of Russia's development programmes. It is hoped that the results of our discussion can, amongst other things, be reflected in the position of the Russian delegation to the Kyoto Forum.

As I close, let me leave you with a West African proverb that succinctly describes the consequences of inaction with respect to freshwater: "Filthy water cannot be washed".

Thank you.

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