U.N. Officials Fear 'Water Wars' in Developing Nations Facing Global Warming Challenges

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 6 (UPI) — U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said the Middle East is “in a challenging situation” and would need stability to achieve development, emphasizing the need to fight climate change to help avoid the next major conflict in the embattled region: “Water War.”

“Instability does affect (development). This is clear: Where you have instability, you cannot make development. But when there is no development, that’s also a fertile ground for instability,” Migiro said Tuesday during an interview with United Press International at the end of a visit to Beirut where she met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

She stressed the need for “increasing stability and addressing issues of governance,” saying that the key factor was to maximize the resources of the region, while bearing in mind that “without stability, you cannot move forward.”

“The region is in a challenging situation especially in security and peace-related issues. But it is not impossible to get out of this situation … Actually, we see critical steps (being taken) toward stability,” Migiro said.

She underlined progress in Iraq but cautioned that “the challenges are still huge but not insurmountable.”

Migiro explained that the United Nations’ present efforts were concentrated on addressing security and peace-related issues as well as issues of development.

She warned that water availability in the embattled Middle East region was already affected by climate change.

“Projections are that by the year 2050, water accessibility for human consumption will have dropped by 40 percent. So this is critical, scary,” she said. “Probably the next major conflict will be about water.”

She, however, emphasized that “war is not an option and we are confident that as we are looking into the question of climate change, we will pay enough attention to water access and availability.”

Migiro explained that the U.N. Environment Program, U.N. Development Program and other agencies were closely working with countries in the region to address the question of climate change and water availability “because we do want to avoid the situation where the next conflict arises over water.”

Creating awareness in the Middle East concerning climate change is a key issue but the major focus remains on the Millennium Development Goals, which were developed at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 and include eight international development goals that 192 U.N. member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. The aim is to reduce extreme poverty and child mortality rates, fight disease epidemics such as AIDS, and develop global partnership for development.

Migiro said the MDG implementation in the region has seen some gains but “a lot more needs to be done.”

“There has been progress in this region in particular. We have seen increased enrollment of children, plans to empower women. We are still hopeful,” she said.

She also described as “a noticeable progress” a decrease in extreme poverty in the Middle East, saying “the number of those living in extreme poverty actually dropped between 1981-2005.”

In Egypt, she said, “poverty line has really dropped. We had very few people who were below the poverty line in 2005 … nearly 2 percent.”

Careful but hopeful, she added, “We have not reached a satisfied level but we want to build on the successes.”

Indeed, the climate change, the economic and financial crisis, the fuel crisis have all affected MDG plans.

Despite the United Nation’s inability to help solve long-lasting crises, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, Migiro said she remains confident that the international organization maintains “a positive image” in the Middle East.

“In times, there are difficulties technically but by large we think we are enjoying enormous support not only from the leadership but the people, too,” she said, referring to the various U.N. organizations operating in the region.

“We are really confident that in the few years to come and once the situation gets better in terms of peace and security, we will see huge steps toward development and therefore sustainable stability in the region,” she said.

On repeated calls to reform the United Nations and the growing frustration of the blunt dominance of the United States and other big powers over the international organization, Migiro explained that in recent years member states began to request “more democratization of the United Nations,” targeting specifically the Security Council and its veto power.

She, however, explained that the “U.N. is going through reforms at the operational level,” referring to a new process under way for a better coordination among various U.N. organizations.

She said the new system was meant “to put our acts together in terms of programs, resources and housing” that would help achieve a better performance and save costs.

For example, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reorganized the Department of Peacekeeping Operations whereby a field support unit was created to support the activities of more than 100,000 peacekeeping troops deployed in various areas of conflicts in the world.

“We are in a hurry to implement the new system … there are certain strengths in the work we are doing now and which will have to materialize by 2011 or so,” she said, noting that the United Nations launched a pilot program in eight countries whereby all U.N. agencies operating in those countries were gathered in one location with one common program and one budget.

Migiro, who in 2006 became the first woman in Tanzania to be named minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, took office as U.N. deputy secretary-general in February 2007.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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