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UNESCO-IHE Rector Predicts Water Cooperation, not Conflict

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 2013 (IPS) - “Many are saying that water will be the principle cause of the next conflict,” said András Szöllösi-Nagy, Rector at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE), at a press briefing at U.N. Headquarters in New York. “If you look at history, (that’s) not true,” he added.

“The history of humanity over the past 4,000 years shows that water – as it connects – was more like a peace-builder than a primary source of conflict,” he explained.

For example, “the Israeli water commissioner was in daily contact with the Palestinian water authority head to share the water and make sure the systems will work”, he said.

Szöllösi-Nagy presented at a media briefing hosted by UNESCO on Tuesday, entitled “From Conflict to Cooperation: Developing Human Capacities to Improve Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa.”

The briefing was the first in a series in light of the International Year of Water Cooperation – the U.N. General Assembly’s deemed backdrop for 2013.

“In 1975, there were 12,000 cubic metres of water available per person per year,” said Szöllösi-Nagy. “Today, that number is down to 5,000.”

“Water also is a major issue in public health. If you look at the diseases, 90 percent of the diseases in sub-Saharan Africa are water-borne diseases. If you look at the hospital situations, half of the patients are there because of water or lack of good water,” he noted, emphasising the strong link between water issues and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Part of the U.N.’s efforts in upcoming years, the expert explained, will be to try and turn potential conflict surrounding water scarcity into avenues of cooperation.

When asked to compare oil conflicts to water conflicts, Szöllösi-Nagy said, “There’s a big difference between oil and water, with the very nature of water being a renewable resource.”

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