Statement by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on World Water Day 2020


World Water Day, 22 March 2020
Statement from the Secretary-General of the OECD, Angel Gurría


Water and climate change are two sides of the same coin. This year’s World Water Day theme “Water and climate change” is an opportunity to put these inextricably linked issues squarely on the radar of decision makers.


The impact of climate change is felt throughout the water cycle. Globally, the increasing severity and frequency of droughts and floods has a detrimental effect on people’s livelihoods and well-being. Demand for water is set to increase by 55% by 2050, by which time around 40% of the world’s population are projected to be living in water-stressed river basins. These phenomena are only going to become more acute and urgent as the world delays stronger action on climate change.


Today, we are facing a global public health crisis with the coronavirus pandemic, and the world’s governments are struggling to respond. The health of so many, especially the most vulnerable, is at risk. Water and sanitation are key to combatting this crisis, with basic hygiene and hand-washing on the frontline of our defensive measures. This is of particular concern for those living with high water scarcity, many in developing countries. Two billion people globally lack access to safe water, and water quality is deteriorating in many parts of the world, with 4.6 billion people lacking access to adequate sanitation.


Water and health are just one of the interdependencies that must be taken into consideration when assessing the most effective policy response. It is also important to examine synergies and links between water and land use, water and agriculture, water and energy, and water and cities.


There are also diverse impacts of these interlinked challenges. In many countries, women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households without access to water on-site. As argued by UN-Water, without safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities at home and in places of work and education, it is disproportionately harder for women and girls to lead safe, productive, and healthy lives.


Across all fields, we must ensure that we incorporate resilience into policies and investments that affect exposure and vulnerability to water risks. Building resilience to water and climate challenges means that we must confront legacy practices, policies, institutions, infrastructure design, as well as operation and financing mechanisms based on historical trends.


In many respects, climate change ensures that the future for water will differ from the past, and that we therefore need new and transformative thinking. This means putting our natural assets at the forefront of our policy efforts. Forests and vegetation, for example, can support urban storm-water management by absorbing and filtering rainwater; agricultural fields can be used as floodplains, complementing conventional grey infrastructure like storm-water pipes, drains or ponds; and, healthy wetlands that act as filtering systems, removing sediment, nutrients and pollutants from water, while also sequestering carbon. The good news is that innovation in the water sector has steadily increased, nearly tripling in the last three decades, giving us the opportunity to deploy more resilient technologies.


Strong action on water must go hand in hand with strong action on climate change. Building a better water and climate future requires collective efforts that go beyond specific policy communities or individual countries’ actions. We must join forces, now.

Read more about OECD work on water:

As a multidisciplinary organisation, the OECD places importance on connecting water with related policy and institutional issues, including climate. Some of our most recent work on water and climate change focuses on agriculture (Water Risk Hotspots for Agriculture), cities (Water and Cities: Ensuring Sustainable Futures; and Water Governance in Cities), flood governance ‘(Applying the OECD Principles on Water Governance to Floods) or adaptation strategies (Water and Climate Change AdaptationResponding to Rising Seas). The Recommendation of the OECD Council on water provides an overarching framework.

The OECD provides policy guidance on water to both OECD members and non-OECD countries. This work builds on intensive collaboration with a range of partners and stakeholders, who coalesce in OECD bodies, or such dedicated platforms as the Roundtable on Financing Water, the Water Governance Initiative, and the Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. The OECD also supports the G7 and G20, which are raising the profile of water in national agendas.

Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.


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