Speech by the Prince of Orange at the ‘High Level meeting on National Drought Policies’ (HMNDP)

14 maart 2013

Genève, 14 March 2013

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends,

Just last week, I was in New York for a Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters. The event was co-hosted hosted by the Secretary-General and the High-level Expert Panel on Water and Disasters and was sponsored by the President of the General-Assembly.  The discussion was extremely informative and it was encouraging that so many countries shared deeply painful experiences and hard-won knowledge. So that we can develop improved understanding, smarter policies, and more resilient infrastructure.   The Session made an important contribution to help reduce the risks of water-related disasters such as floods, tsunamis, typhoons, and major storms. 

Another sort of water-related disaster, however, warranted more attention.  Droughts.  A drought, of course, does not have the immediate, cataclysmic drama of a flood or massive storm. A drought's drama is played out in slow motion, often over the course of years. Yet droughts are surely no less disastrous as you all know.

You all understand that climate change means more frequent, prolonged and severe droughts. I would like spend a few minutes talking about how droughts are an even more complicated global challenge than we may have thought.

Current research is helping us to grasp deeper links between climate change, drought and larger political events.  Droughts, of course, have shaped human civilizations since the beginnings of the human race.  But droughts are increasing being interpreted by political scientists and international relation experts as "threat multipliers" or "stressors".  Droughts can act as tipping points that may amplify volatile situations sometimes far away from the area directly affected by drought.  This is not to say droughts alone cause social unrest. They can, however, ramp up social forces that are already at play.  In our increasingly globalized,  interconnected and climate impacted world  it is likely that we will see an increasing interplay between climate, water, drought, food, migration, and related forces such as economic, social, and political stress.  Given this, it will help to understand and anticipate how drought may contribute to larger social context.

Several weeks ago, the Centre for Climate and Security and several partners released a fascinating and sobering series of essays called "The Arab Spring and ClimateChange."  At first glance, the connection between the Arab Spring and climate change seems rather odd.  And the researchers are extremely careful to make the point that climate change alone did not cause the Arab Spring.  They do make the case, however, that climate change was an important stressor that contributed to the political volatility and uprisings. Think of the once-in-a-century winter drought in China and Russia in 2010 which contributed to a sharp spike in wheat prices.  Shift focus to Egypt - the largest importer of wheat in the world.  Bread provides a third of the average Egyptian's daily calories. In addition, Egyptians spend around 38% of their income on food.  Compare that to 10% in rich countries. So, a sudden rise in the price of wheat had a big impact in Egypt and certainly made the average Egyptian even more unhappy with the regime and more likely to take to the streets to demand change.  The Chinese and Russian drought and the uprisings in Egypt exemplify how local hazards can become globalized. 

Another essay focuses on Syria.  According to one expert, between 2006 - 2010 Syria experienced the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent over five millennia ago.  The consequence?  A massive migration of farmers, herders and the agriculturally dependant to the cities-Aleppo, Damascus and Homs. As cities struggled to absorb this drought-driven migration of hungry and displaced new residents, additional strains and tensions were placed on already fragile systems.  This culminated in increased political strife.  The brutality of the Assad regime in the face of opposition cannot be blamed on severe drought.  But drought surely was a "stressor" that further contributed to  Syrian instability. 

The overall sentiment of these essays will resonate with those of you who study drought and its impact.  The message is this:  The global community must think beyond traditional notions of geo-political relations based on notions of hard security.  Those notions might have suited the cold war era, but now we need a new paradigm, a more global paradigm, focused less on military power and economic clout and more on human security, livelihood protection, and sustainable development.  In addition, it is increasingly evident that everything is linked. The globalization of local hazards such as drought should not be ignored.  The link between climate change, human migration, and instability is illustrated though many examples. 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am here today in my role as Chair of the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.  Our main work is advocating for more funding, better policies and greater political will to meet the Millennium Development Goal target to halve the proportion of people lacking access to drinking water and basic sanitation.  But as we have pursued this objective, our members have come more and more to realize what I just said.  Every thing is linked.  That is why we have broadened  our Hashimoto Action Plan which includes promoting the Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus and Integrated Water Resources Management. 

With more than seven billion people on the planet, it is our responsibility to find how to meet our needs more efficiently.  We are bumping up against natural resource limits.  This isn't about politics or ideology.  It is about the planet we are going to leave behind.  Simply put, we must change the way we live.  In Africa.  In Asia.  On this continent and all over the world.  A nexus approach will help us make sense of this change and to manage it.  How?  By identifying cross-sectoral impacts and trade-offs so that more efficient solutions can be pursued. 

Think of biofuels.  Using corn for fuel is offered as an energy solution.  This makes sense on the surface and in many parts of the world this path is being aggressively pursued.  But what do biofuels mean for food security?  And what about demands on water supply especially in places that are already water scarce.  Clearly, in drought prone areas, growing food for fuel should be rigorously questioned. A nexus approach would mean that decision makers considering biofuels would explore trade-offs before making major investments.  And in the process helping policy makers achieve greater policy coherence.  This is needed. 

However, I do not like howling with the wolves. I therefore explicitly do not state here food should by definition not be used for fuel. If the profits are such they can provide food indirectly by import there is every reason to consider food crops as an alternative energy source. 

We must build development pathways which are resource efficient, equitable and sustainable. All levels of governance from the local to the international can use a nexus approach to ensure a sustainable future. 

Just as we need to move beyond traditional notions of geo-politics, we need a cultural change which embraces the nexus.  Why is it so difficult?  It is simply human nature to feel comfortable with those who share your values.  Colleagues who speak your language.  Others who understand your objectives.  Working across sectors is messy and time consuming and often frustrating.  But we do need a different approach, which requires cultural change. Because if we don't, we might see an occasional success here and there, but permanent change will not happen. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our Board also supports the Integrated Water Resource Management approaches and our members believe that IWRM National Plans can be a useful tool to help countries manage water to meet national development objectives.  Several years ago, we have called for countries to share their IWRM Plans during the Commission on Sustainable Development so that the international community could assess how countries are advancing.  The advantages of an IWRM approach are many.  It can help countries solve problems such as drought or ground-water overdraft that are too complex for a single sector or ministry.  Integrated approaches can avoid poor investments and expensive mistakes while also ensuring we get full value from our investments in infrastructure. Of course, IWRM also provides a framework for the strategic allocation of water.  Clearly this is central to mitigate the impacts of droughts.  I encourage those of you working on National Drought Policies to closely align you efforts with IWRM planning. 

Our Board is calling for a global goal on water as part of the post 2015 development framework aligned around three main objectives.  Improved integrated water resource management and water use efficiency underpins the goal.  While this is not a new idea, it is nonetheless essential.  And it is here where we are very closely aligned with those working on drought mitigation.  The goal would also include increased wastewater management and pollution prevention because we believe that sanitation does not stop at the toilet.  A recent study by the University of North Carolina assessed the available global statistics on sanitation and wastewater treatment and determined that 4.1 billion people do not benefit from sewage treatment.   That is more than half of the global population.  And the final component of the global goal on water is achieving universal access to water that is really safe to drink and sanitation to secure health, dignity and development for all.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

Water is life and sanitation is dignity.  This is a sentence those of us in the water and sanitation community use frequently - so much even that the real meaning behind these words is sometimes lost.  But for the millions of people who have suffered through a drought the idea that water is life could not be more meaningful.    Managing water and planning for drought is getting more and more complicated with climate change.  This global challenge requires collective action to mitigate as much climate change as possible while the building of resilient states to adapt locally to the impacts that are impossible to mitigate.  This is a global challenge which necessitates a global response.  I urge all of you to write and adopt a declaration which reflects this spirit.  I would like to thank our hosts, Mr. Jarraud, Mr. Gnacadja and Mr. da Silva for inviting me today and on behalf of the Board please accept our wishes for a successful session.