Public Release: 

Void in leadership on world water crisis cited by 20 former heads of government

Clinton, Fox, Zedillo, Chretien, Brundtland among 20 former leaders urging greater effort to avert looming water crisis

InterAction Council

Former heads of government from around the world today agreed at a meeting in Canada to establish a new panel to help fill a serious void in leadership related to global water issues.

Saying that "international water leadership is virtually nonexistent," the retired leaders say the panel will work to elevate the issue's political prominence in an effort to avert a looming "water crisis."

The 20 members of the InterAction Council attending this year's three-day annual meeting in Quebec City included former US President Bill Clinton, former Mexican Presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo, and former prime ministers Yasuo Fukuda (Japan) and Gro Brundtland (Norway). Co-chairing the meeting: former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky,

At the meeting's conclusion, the group urged a new international water ethic and offered today's political office-holders some 21 recommendations for world water management moving forward.

The top recommendation: "placing water at the forefront of the global political agenda." Others include: link climate change research and adaptation programs to water issues, make the right to water legally enforceable, raise the price of water to reflect its economic value while making provisions for people in poverty, prefer the growth of food over biofuel crops in places where water supplies are threatened, and encourage the UN Security Council to take up water as an important focus.

They welcomed both a high level of dialogue and cooperation on water-allocation in the Mekong River delta between China and India and the work done by the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund, which aims to rebuild housing in Haiti with adequate sanitation to avoid public health disasters through water contamination.

In addition to the water crisis, the Council touched on other environmental topics, warning of the "intensification of natural phenomenon caused by climate change as demonstrated by floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes ravaging the globe."

On other topics, the Council expressed deep condolences to the Japanese people who endured the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

They warned of potentially "prolonged instability" in North Africa and the Middle East and of inflationary dangers caused by escalating government debt loads.

And they called on governments to eliminate nuclear weapons of mass destruction, the theme of the Council's 2010 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, saying "the continuing existence of nuclear weapons is an unacceptable and disproportionate threat to every living thing on the planet. The only enduring solution to this threat lies in the verifiable and irreversible elimination of these weapons."

"As long as nuclear weapons exist in the hands of any state, they will be sought also by others. As long as nuclear weapons exist they will be used one day, either by deliberate action or by accident. Any use of nuclear weapons would be a human, ecological, economic, political and moral catastrophe. States continue to seek nuclear weapons for a number of reasons. The question of proliferation needs to be recognized and addressed."

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The full text of the 2011 statement is appended.

InterAction Council

Established in 1983, the 37-member InterAction Council seeks to address long-term, global issues -- identifying future challenges and recommending feasible solutions.

InterAction Council members at the meeting in Quebec City

  • The Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétien, Co-Chairman (former Prime Minister), Canada
  • H.E. Dr. Franz Vranitzky, Co-Chairman (former Chancellor), Austria
  • H.E. Mr. Helmut Schmidt, Honorary Chairman (former Chancellor), Germany
  • H.E. Dr. Oscar Arias (former President), Costa Rica
  • H.E. Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (former Prime Minister), Malaysia
  • The Rt. Hon. Mr. James Bolger (former Prime Minister), New Zealand
  • H.E. Dr. Gro Brundtland (former Prime Minister), Norway
  • H.E. Mr. William Jefferson Clinton (former President), United States of America
  • H.E. Mr. Fernando de la Rúa (former President), Argentina
  • H.E. Mr. Vicente Fox (former President), Mexico
  • H.E. Mr. Yasuo Fukuda (former Prime Minister), Japan
  • H.E. Mr. Goh Chok Tong (former Prime Minister), Republic of Singapore
  • H.E. Dr. Abdel Salam Majali (former Prime Minister), Jordan
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir James Fitz-Allen Mitchell (former Prime Minister), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • H.E. Mr. Andrés Pastrana (former President), Colombia
  • The Rt. Hon. Percival Noel James Patterson (former Prime Minister), the Republic of Jamaica
  • Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Quraishi (former Governor of Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority), Saudi Arabia
  • The Rt. Hon. Mr. Tung Chee Hwa (former Chief Executive), Hong Kong Administration
  • H.E. Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga (former President), Latvia
  • H.E. Dr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Léon (former President), Mexico

Associate Members

Dr. Thomas Axworthy, President and CEO, Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation, Canada, and Secretary-General of the InterAction Council
Baroness Margaret Jay, United Kingdom

Special guests

  • Dr. Abdulrahman H. Al-Saeed, Advisor, The Royal Court, President of Center for Specialized Studies, Saudi Arabia
  • Mr. Abdullah Al Hussayen, Minister of Electricity and Water, Saudi Arabia
  • H.E. Amb. Richard Butler, Chairman, Middle Power Initiative, Australia
  • Mr. Mike Hightower, Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories, USA
  • Mr. Bob Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the United Nations Water for Life Decade, Canada
  • Mr. Tang Jiaxuan, Former State Councillor, People's Republic of China
  • Mr. William F. Weld, Former Governor of Massachusetts, USA

Full text of the IAC statement:

Humankind is faced with the danger of a water crisis. Without water, energy cannot be produced, crops cannot grow, sanitization is compromised, and human health is put in jeopardy. Clean and reliable access to water is integral to maintaining and supporting a life full of dignity.

Reflecting the interdependence of the world and the importance of multilateral solutions, the InterAction Council assembled for its 29th Annual Plenary Session in Québec, Canada in May 2011 to focus on the global water crisis and address present challenges of the world: the unrest in the Middle East and nuclear disarmament.

With regard to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the Council expressed its deep condolences to the Japanese people, the victims of the disaster, and their families.

The Council expressed its gratitude to the resigning Secretary-General Mr Isamu Miyazaki and welcomed its incoming Secretary General, Dr Thomas Axworthy.

Present State of the World

North Africa and the Middle East are undergoing great change. The enthusiasm of crowds calling for democracy and human rights is a demonstration that the desire for freedom is universal. At the same time, these dramatic changes bring the possibility of prolonged instability in their wake. While military interventions can prevent massacres and provide short-term order, they are no substitute for the hard, long, local learning necessary for democracy's roots to take hold. The leaders and peoples of the Middle East must prepare now their pathways to reform.

How the new regimes of the Middle East will affect the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is yet to be seen, but what is certain is that the region will remain unstable until there is a peaceful settlement of this conflict. Recent efforts by US President Barack Obama to reinvigorate the peace negotiations and his calls to stop the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are welcome steps. They need continued support.

The world's economy remains in severe disarray, even if it is slowly recovering from the financial meltdown. The present situation has been brought on by excessive risk-taking by financial institutions, greed, and inadequate regulation of the financial markets. While a coordinated approach by the G20 has prevented a depression, the financial crisis is not yet over. The previous accumulation of fiscal debt, effect of the recession on fiscal revenue and the stimulus measures have created escalating debt, which will lead to inflation and a reduced capacity of states to respond to evolving crises.

Inflation disproportionately causes hardships for the poor and the vulnerable. The lives of the one billion people already struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day become even more difficult as commodity and oil prices continue to increase.

Recent events have reminded us of the devastating force of natural disasters and their immediate effects on mankind. No continent is immune to the effects of intensification of natural phenomena caused by climate change as demonstrated by floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes ravaging the globe.

The experience of Japan raises dramatically the issue of the risks and rewards related to energy production. Many countries have turned towards nuclear power as a means to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the challenges of climate change. However, there are potential safety issues with nuclear energy. Japan's experience highlights the necessity of moving towards renewable energy and developing a model of sustainability.

Furthermore, in dealing with climate change, reducing black carbon and methane gas from farm waste and urban landfills should be priorities.

Responsible solutions to global issues should be anchored in mutual understanding of global ethics. What is required in the global architecture is a document which outlines core principles of moral responsibility, a code of ethics which places a premium on truth, respect for every individual, and concern for the security and well being of all. In this regard, the InterAction Council reaffirmed its commitment to the Universal Declaration on Human Responsibilities and considered pathways for its advancement.

The future is shared by us all. We need multilateral solutions and an exploration of new ways to address issues that reflect the interconnected world in which we live. Global progress is possible, but it takes time and it is never easy. It includes both a risk and a reward: a solution to a problem today contains equal risk in creating a new task tomorrow. In global policy we sometimes fail, occasionally succeed, but mostly we cope.

Therefore the InterAction Council recommends:

    Pursuing a truly multilateral world order in which decision-making structures reflect the interconnectivity of the global village in which we live, in order to address common challenges most effectively.

    Supporting the processes for peaceful transition in the Middle East to embrace democracy, liberty, and human rights.

    Urging regimes in the Middle East to recognize that sustained freedom requires commitment to order, the rule of law, tolerance of dissidence and a culture of liberty.

    Recalling that a primary issue preventing stability in the Middle East is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and its influence on terrorism.

    Demanding that Israel cease construction and expansion of new settlements in Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem.

    Supporting US President Obama in his renewed efforts for seeking peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

    Demanding Israel conform with the 2004 Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice on the wall constructed on Palestinian territories and comply with the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

    Recognizing that terrorism is a threat to the world and that while there are many causes of terrorism, states should make every effort to understand these causes and, where possible, remedy them.

    Calling for strong leadership to manage the world economy, so as to reduce debt, avoid depression, and address poverty.

    Urging all heavily indebted countries to take significant action to deal effectively with their national debts.

    Encouraging the implementation of the agreements reached at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009.

    Welcoming the work done by the United Nations High Level Panel on Global Sustainability to address global challenges.

    Making internet coverage accessible and open to all and incorporating online learning into education policies especially on the subject on ethics.

    Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities and urging states, regional associations, special agencies of the United Nations and the UN General Assembly to adopt the Declaration.

Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Sustainability Issue

Water is life. It is essential in our daily lives: to quench our thirst, grow our food, for sanitation to keep up health and to produce the energy that drives our modern age. However, more than 97 per cent of the Earth's water is salty, while 2 per cent remains frozen in ice and snow. This leaves less than 1 per cent to meet the increasing demand for freshwater. We will either fight over water or use it collaboratively.

Lack of clean water is interlinked with disease, poverty and inequality, with women often being disproportionately affected.There is an annual expenditure of over 10 million person-years of time and effort by women and children carrying water from distant sources.

One billion people never get a glass of clean water and more than two billion people lack basic sanitation. In addressing water issues, we address economic and public health woes, while also advancing capacity to adapt to climate change and thus, reducing the pressures of climate-related migration.

As global energy demands rise, the energy sector is being placed into greater competition with other water users. This will impact regional energy reliability and energy security. Until our thinking about water and energy can be integrated, sustainability will continue to elude us.

The Millennium Development Goals strive to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. Advancements have been made on the water target, whereas on the sanitation target progress is lagging far behind. Solidarity needs to be shown with those needing assistance in attaining basic sanitation systems.

Nowhere is the water crisis as imminent as in the Middle East, where several states contend over the use of the Euphrates and Jordan River basins. Joint efforts will be vital in making water-sharing part of a peaceful Middle East. However, the effects of the water crisis reach far beyond the developing world.

A growing number of rivers do not make it to the sea and surface and groundwater contamination make valuable water supplies unfit for use. Despite this, meaningful solutions for water management are impeded by jurisdictional fragmentation and institutional territoriality. Political jurisdictions have created artificial boundaries for shared resources around the world: water and rivers flow without worrying about political boundaries drawn on a map.

Instead, a watershed based approach should be pursued. International examples suggest that watershed-scale management of water resources can generate increased economic benefits. The European Union provides a positive example of a successful agreement on water management standards and the linkage between agricultural and water policies.

Solutions to the water crisis need to be sought from the perspective of development, energy, technology, international law, gender equality, migration, economic progress, public health conservation and environment. International water leadership is virtually nonexistent. Political will, financial resources, good governance and public education are lacking. It is for that reason that the InterAction Council will establish a panel on the global water issues, building on the positive examples of the Singapore International Water Week, the Stockholm Water Conference, the World Water Council and other similar initiatives.

There is only a finite amount of water in the world. The water we drink today is the same water we will drink tomorrow and our grandchildren will drink generations from now. This necessitates the promotion of an ethic of water usage and a realization that water is simply too valuable not to manage appropriately.

The Council endorsed the Chairmen's Report of the High-level Expert Group Meeting "The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue" chaired by Mr Jean Chretien, Dr Franz Vranitzky and Mr Olusegun Obasanjo in Toronto on 21-23 March 2011.

Therefore the InterAction Council recommends:

    Placing water at the forefront of the global political agenda and linking climate change research and adaptation programs to water issues.

    Urging national governments to price water sources to appropriately reflect its economic value, while making provisions for those in poverty.

    Urging national governments to stimulate private and public sector innovation to address the global water crisis and capitalize on the economic opportunities that arise from finding solutions to these complex challenges.

    Asserting that where water supplies are threatened, water used to grow food should not be substituted for water to grow crops for biofuel production.

    Encouraging increased investment in urgently needed sanitation coverage and improved access to safe water supply globally.

    Welcoming the work done by the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund, which aims to rebuild housing in Haiti with adequate sanitation to avoid public health disasters through water contamination.

    Supporting ratification of the UN Watercourses Convention and the development of the draft articles on transboundary acquifers.

    Supporting and advancingthe UN international water protocols.

    Encouraging a discussion on water security at the UN Security Council.

    Linking of agricultural and water policy with energy policy locally, nationally, and globally.

    Encouraging the development of materials and water treatment approaches to enable non-traditional water use in domestic, industrial, and in energy generation and refining applications and in particular research on more cost-effective desalinization integrated with renewable energy resources.

    Renewing local, national, and international focus on monitoring hydrological processes and increased attention to mapping and monitoring of groundwater.

    Urging national governments and multi-national companies to improvewater availability assessment, energy and water systems analysis, and decision tools

    Urging national governments to reducethe loss of water in public networks through adequate monitoring and infrastructure development, as well as the per capita consumption in municipal use.

    Supporting the conservation of the world's intact freshwater ecosystems, the establishment of ecological sustainability boundaries, and investment in ecosystem restoration.

    Encouraging high-level dialogue and cooperation on water-allocation in major transboundary rivers such as discussions between Indochina states on the Mekong River.

    Welcoming the role of NGOs in the further development of water governance solutions and particularly emphasizing the role of women, given their special responsibility for water.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The continuing existence of nuclear weapons is an unacceptable and disproportionate threat to every living thing on the planet. The only enduring solution to this threat lies in the verifiable and irreversible elimination of these weapons.

As long as nuclear weapons exist in the hands of any state, they will be sought also by others. As long as nuclear weapons exist they will be used one day, either by deliberate action or by accident. Any use of nuclear weapons would be a human, ecological, economic, political and moral catastrophe. States continue to seek nuclear weapons for a number of reasons. The question of proliferation needs to be recognized and addressed.

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia is a positive step forward in that it will over the next ten years reduce the number of warheads by 30 per cent.

To mark its continued commitment to nuclear disarmament, the Council reiterated its Hiroshima Declaration of 19 April 2010 and its Communiqué of the 29th Annual Plenary and in the process reaffirmed the need for action to seek full implementation of these recommendations.

While nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous, the Council recalled that small arms and light weapons kill over 500,000 people annually, approximately one person per minute, day and night.

Lasting peace remains just out of reach, despite all our efforts. It is up to us to ensure that our children do not experience the horrors of nuclear weapons.

Therefore the InterAction Council recommends:

    Taking into accountthe Hiroshima Declaration of 2010 as well as the Communiqué of the 29th Annual Plenary of the InterAction Council.

    Welcoming the entry into force of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia.

    Implementing the UN Secretary General's Five-Point Proposal on Nuclear Disarmament as well as the decisions of the 2010 Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

    Issuing as an immediate first step a commitment to non-first use of nuclear weapons by all states.

    Initiating discussions on a framework of mutually reinforcing agreements or a convention on nuclear weapons, in order to develop without further delay 'a comprehensive nuclear treaty architecture aiming at the elimination of nuclear weapons'.

    Concluding a convention prohibiting nuclear weapons, in the same manner as conventions prohibiting biological and chemical weapons.

    Calling on nuclear weapon statesto confirm and implement their obligations under article VI of the NPT, to negotiate and achieve nuclear disarmament.

    Emphasizing that all states possessing nuclear weaponsshould reduce and eventually eliminate their arsenals.

    Restricting and regulatinginternational production and trade in small arms by supporting the draft International Arms Trade Treaty and in this regard, continuing constructive negotiations on the treaty.

The InterAction Council gratefully acknowledges the support of the following governments, private corporations, foundations and individuals that have made this meeting possible.

Governments

    The Government of Australia
    The Government of Brazil
    The Government of Canada
    The Government of Japan
    The Government of Korea
    The Government of Sweden
    The Government of Québec
    City of Québec

Foundations, Private Corporations and Individuals


    The Tung Foundation (Hong Kong)
    The Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation (Canada)
    Bombardier Inc.
    Labatt Breweries of Canada
    Power Corporation of Canada
    Royal Bank of Canada
    Sembcorp Industries Ltd. (Singapore)

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