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UNESCO: Opening Address by Prime Minister of Iceland at UN-Water Summit on Groundwater

Video Address by H.E. Ms Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland
UN-Water Summit on Groundwater – Paris, 7 December 2022

Director-General Audrey Azoulay, dear colleagues, dear friends,

Water sustains life and human well-being, and adequate access to water is an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Groundwater is especially important for humanity, as it provides a large part of our drinking water and irrigation worldwide.

We can refer to it as our “Golden Goose”, a resource of wealth that may become exhausted if it is misused. Sustainable management of groundwater resources is essential for all global water related agendas.

Today's UN-Water Summit on Groundwater is helping “making the invisible visible”, as highlighted in the 2022 World Water Development Report.

It will also provide a valuable input for the UN Water Conference taking place next year in New York.

In Iceland, we have taken access to plentiful and clean groundwater for granted. Around 95% of our drinking water is groundwater and is usually distributed to users without special treatment or purification.

This was not always the case. Following a deadly typhoid-fever epidemic in Iceland’s capital in 1906, great emphasis was placed on improving Reykjavík’s drinking water and the construction of a new water facility.

Sustainable water management is central in building resilience of societies and ecosystems. Groundwater is also central in the fight against poverty and to food security. To this end, many lower income countries struggle the most.Here, the crucial link between gender equality and water management needs to be considered. Women, especially in lower income countries, are disproportionately affected by water scarcity.

We need to ensure women’s active participation in all decision-making regarding water management, and that their voices are heard and taken into consideration when designing and constructing water infrastructure such as wells.

Today, the effects of climate change pose a threat to groundwater resources and access to clean water.

In Iceland, we can clearly see the effects of the climate crisis. In 2019, I participated in bidding a sad farewell to the now former glacier Ok. The glacier that covered the mountaintop has been replaced by a crater lake.

Melting of glaciers all over the world is contributing to rising sea levels, disrupting natural systems, and affecting water resources and water security.

Climate change affects groundwater through changes in seasonality and quantity caused by melting glaciers, as well as by disturbing the delicate equilibrium of nature’s own water management.

In fact, climate change caused by human activity is having negative effects on water security globally.

Groundwater, an intricate part of water consumption, food production and hydroelectric power industries in Iceland, is under pressure.

Seasonal droughts and increase in water intense industries are already affecting our groundwater status. We cannot take this resource for granted any more.

While glaciers are retreating in Iceland, other extreme weather conditions are experienced around the world, causing droughts and floods.

According to the IPCC’s last report, about half of the world’s population is estimated to experience water scarcity each year. Here also, the lower income countries face enormous challenges.

Armed conflicts and wars are also causing range of ecological issues, including groundwater contamination and devastating destruction to essential water infrastructure, leaving millions of desperate people without access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.

This is the case in Ukraine, where Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine has made a point of targeting civilian water infrastructure, in blatant violation of international conventions – not to mention the total lack of human decency.

Dear friends.

I welcome this Summit and the important work of UN Water in cooperation with UNESCO, the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre and others.

We know we must take action – and we must do better.

I encourage the young professionals and scientists here today to continue speaking up and to help moving this important agenda forward.

I wish you all the best in your important work.


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