Speech by the Lakhdar Brahimi the Special Representative of Secretary-General for Afghanistan on World Environment Day

I’m delighted to see so many people attending this very important occasion. I’m delighted to see that the people of Afghanistan value both the environment and water and I hope that we can together protect the environment and provide the people of Afghanistan with the water they need.

On this Environment Day, people like you are gathered around the world to recommit themselves to protecting the inheritance that is our natural environment. Today, we have a chance to pause for a moment to reflection how fragile and precious our natural environment is, and to learn again the lessons that the environment has to teach us: that each generations given the world’s environment to care for and protect, in trust, for the next generation; that only through cooperation and sharing of resources can we all benefit from a clean and safe environment; that if we each consume natural resources only for our own individual interests, without regard, the community as a whole will suffer.

On this Environment Day we are reflecting on the importance of water. “The source of life”: we need it for our health, for sanitation, for food production, for industrial production. It helps regulate our climates and supports the entire fabric of life on earth.

Human development and dignity depends upon access to water. More than one billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion lack proper sanitation. But this situations not without hope. With enough support and resources, it can be improved. In fact, during the 1990s, nearly one billion people actually gained access to safe water and the same number to sanitation. Three years ago at the Millennium Summit, and again at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the governments of the world, along with NGOs and citizens from around the world, agreed on a target. By 2015, just 12 years from now, the world’s leaders have undertaken to reduce, by half, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water.

In Afghanistan, people know all too well how precious water is. The drought of the past five years placed an awful burden upon Afghans who already suffered from decades of war. The drought added to their insecurity and increased the numbers of people who were displaced from their homes, searching for food and water, as well as peace. We may give thanks, now that good rains have returned, at last, to the country. Let us hope the water will bring with it the benefits of increased agricultural production, more jobs and more food.

Water is perhaps the most precious resource in Afghanistan, and so it can be a source of conflict. Today, a high proportion of conflicts in the country are a result of disputes over land. Land rights, however, do not mean much without water rights, since Afghanistan has plenty of land, but much of it is not arable land. One of the most important tasks facing the country will be to bring order, and the rule of law, to bear on the question of land and water rights.

But water can also be a source of cooperation. Indeed, Afghans have long history of cooperation between communities to protect and maintain the precious water that feeds their fields. The “karees” that carry water underground from one community to another are masterpieces of engineering that have stood the test of centuries. Because they require constant maintenance they depend upon mutual cooperation and support among all who use them. This sort of cooperation, based upon local traditions, reminds us that there are many cultural and social resources that are available to build cooperation and peace in the country.

Just as water can either bind or divide the local agricultural communities of Afghanistan, it also links Afghanistan with its neighbors. Afghanistan has five river basins that cross international boundaries. Water from these rivers must be shared with Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Demand for water is likely to rise in all these countries over time. It is very important that Afghanistan and its neighbors work together to ensure that access to these shared resources does not become a source of competition and friction, but rather the basis for cooperation. The Declaration on Good Neighborly Relations that Afghanistan and its neighbors signed last December speaks of just this sort of cooperation. There are good examples around the world of international agreements on sharing river resources that have helped generate cross-border cooperation and economic activity in many other fields as well and I sincerely hope that water may play such a role in the region.

The Government has indicated that it gives a very high priority to developing and conserving water resources. Within its National Programmed for Reconstruction, the Government has set a National Water Resources Investment sub programme.The aim of this sub-programmer is to draw together Government resources to develop water resource policies, to conserve and utilize water effectively, to restore canals and irrigation systems, to collect data and to construct and develop dams. In the end, the Government will need the commitment of all the people of the country to ensure that water, and the rest of the environment, are conserved and used well.

The United Nations agencies in Afghanistan will do their best to help the Government with its development goals related to water and the environment. In order to focus the attention of governments and aid organizations to help achieve these goals, the United Nations have designated this year as the International Year of Fresh Water and one of the events was the World Water Forum, held in Tokyo last March. The government of Afghanistan sent a nine-person delegation to attend the World Water Forum in Tokyo. Two children accompanied them, and I am delighted to note that these children will speak to us this morning, to remind us to take care of the inheritance that rightfully belongs to them. Please listen to them, and have a very happy, productive Environment day.