Habib N. El-Habr
Water is a scarce resource. Thus, its development, conservation, management, and utilization is a priority for all of us. Freshwater resources constitute fundamental requirements for advancing the human condition on this planet. In recognizing this reality, the United Nations has given considerable emphasis to assisting nations to use these resources in a rational manner, so that they do not degrade the human environment, they are not depleted in an unsustainable manner, and the ultimate result will be the material well-being of humanity on a global scale. It is for goals such as these that we are all here gathered today.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has a long and rewarding association with the United Nations University (UNU) on the management of fresh water. UNEP and the UNU have co-organized various forums to discuss the same burning topic that is bringing us here together today. In January 1995 together we sponsored the Asian Water Forum; in March of the same year we gathered in Tokyo and Shiga for the Eurasian Forum, and here today we are again looking at the importance of fresh water in the arid lands. From UNEP's perspective, a major goal is to enhance the economic development process in a drainage basin while at the same time ensuring that the environment - aquatic, atmospheric, and terrestrial - does not suffer significant degradation as a result. Put another way, our goal is the effective management of these systems within the context of sustainable development.
This attitude certainly is not unique to UNEP. It was the major topic of the famous Dublin Conference on Water and Environment in 1992 as well as a substantial focus of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and a major component of chapter 18 of Agenda 21 (UN 1992). In broadest terms, the concept of sustainable development encompasses the following:
1. The idea of self-reliant development, i.e. within natural resource constraints;
2. The idea of cost-effective development using non-traditional economic criteria;
3. The perception that development should not degrade the environment nor decrease productivity in the long run;
4. Help for the very poor because they are left with no option other than to destroy their own environment;
5. The issues of health control, appropriate technologies, self-reliance in food, clean water, and shelter for all;
6. Concentrating on the environmental systems at greatest risk, whether they be arid lands, watersheds, moist forests, or urban areas of rapid expansion. UNEP was recently designated focal point for water within the UN Secretariat, an exciting and challenging new role we expect to perform in collaboration with all our UN colleagues, especially the UNU. UNEP will also expect to have proactive working relationships with the institutions you represent, be it universities, laboratories, regional organizations, or private sector, in advancing the serious work you are advocating. I wish you all the best in this endeavour and, on behalf of UNEP, promise our continued support and collaboration.