Interview with Michel Jarraud, Chairman of UN-Water and Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization | August 2012

August 2012


Tell us about UN-Water: why has a platform of this kind been created, what is its mandate, and how does it operate?

UN-Water is the coordination mechanism of the United Nations for all matters relating to water. It was set up in 2003, at the instigation of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), to establish or strengthen collaboration between agencies on certain key topics, such as freshwater resources and water and sanitation services, among others.

UN-Water is currently made up of 30 "members". These are bodies within the UN system, including specialized agencies, funds and programmes, regional commissions and United Nations conventions. UN-Water also has 26 external partners.

UN-Water is chaired by its members, taking the chair in turns. I currently have the honour of being its Chairman for two years. Its structure also comprises a Vice-Chairman, a Secretary and a Technical Advisory Unit with staff in Geneva and New York.

How, in concrete terms, do 30 UN organizations and external partners work together within UN-Water on questions relating to water and sanitation?

As a coordination mechanism, UN-Water provides a platform for discussion and the exchange of views, enabling its members and partners to work together on issues requiring the attention of the international community. It sets certain short and medium-term priorities and creates temporary thematic task teams made up of both members and partners, tasked with discussing priorities and making recommendations.

The UN-Water task teams are currently working on coordination at national and regional levels, sanitation, waste water treatment, water quality, indicators, monitoring-assessment and the preparation of reports, climate change and water, and transboundary waters.

UN-Water also comprises four specialized programmes, each with its own work plan and budget agreed upon by UN-Water and coordinated by a member. The programmes are: the World Water Assessment Programme; the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation; the UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development "Water for Life 2005-2015", and, finally, the UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication.

Why not replace UN-Water with a new organization tasked with handling all questions relating to water and sanitation?

Given the multisectoral function of water resources, these questions cannot be dealt with in isolation, but must be addressed as a whole. Water plays an important role in many sectors, particularly agriculture, health, energy, education and culture, and disaster risk reduction, not to mention cross-cutting factors associated with climate change and issues of fairness and gender, among others This fact is clearly illustrated by the number of United Nations agencies that have water-related programmes and activities. It is therefore preferable to strengthen the relations between all these agencies and programmes under the umbrella of UN-Water, thereby benefiting from the expertise already available, and creating new synergies or building on existing ones.

What is your role as Chairman of UN-Water?

My primary role as Chairman is to represent UN-Water at international conferences and in major forums and processes, and to oversee and guide the implementation of its work programme in a collective spirit.

What, specifically, does that involve on a day-to-day basis?

I must admit that I slightly underestimated the number of initiatives in which UN-Water was involved. May I suggest that you visit our website at for an overview of the various initiatives.

Fortunately, I have a very good team of devoted and enthusiastic professionals to assist me in my day-to-day tasks. Thanks to them, the administrative aspects of UN-Water are carried out in an efficient and flexible manner.

Have you defined certain priorities for your two years as Chairman?

As I have already mentioned, UN-Water's decisions are taken collectively, therefore the Chairman does not have the power to set priorities unilaterally. However, the consensus among UN-Water members is that a high priority for the next two years is to facilitate the implementation of the decisions concerning water taken at the Rio+20 Conference. To this end, we will help define sustainable development goals for water, along with the associated indicators. Aspects such as water supply, sanitation and waste water management will also be addressed. Existing monitoring mechanisms will be improved, and new ones developed, together with the corresponding new reporting tools.

What will the highlights of your chairmanship be?

It is tempting to answer this question by mentioning a few major international events. For example, this year has seen the 6th World Water Forum, held in March in Marseilles, and the Rio+20 Conference, which I've already mentioned, and the 18th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will take place in December in Doha. At all these events UN-Water has launched, or will launch, reference reports on topics such as the state, use and management of global freshwater resources, the state of water supplies and sanitation worldwide, and the implementation of integrated water resources management policies.

However, I think that it will be a true measure of the success of UN-Water if it is perceived in the international arena as a fundamental mechanism for promoting the importance of the rational use and management of water resources and for helping to achieve sustainable development objectives in water-related areas.

What do you consider to be the advantages of carrying out this role from Geneva?

Geneva International is one of the world's most important centres of international cooperation, and hosts many international organizations. It therefore offers numerous advantages. Furthermore, the city of Geneva is home to the greatest number of UN-Water members and partners, which makes discussions, meetings and interactions between them easy.

The decision to base the Technical Advisory Unit permanently in Geneva was taken in January 2010, well before I was elected Chairman.

How do you combine this responsibility with your position as Secretary-General of the WMO?

Fortunately, many events in which I participate as Chairman of UN-Water are also of great importance to the World Meteorological Organization. I am therefore accustomed to wearing several "hats", so to speak. Furthermore, the fact that the WMO has always been a major contributor to UN-Water and shares similar principles, such as the importance of cooperation, transparency and a multidisciplinary approach to meeting the challenges of sustainable development, have been a great help in enabling me to combine these two roles.

What, in your opinion, are the greatest challenges water and sanitation will present in the years to come?

Although we have come considerably closer to reaching the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) related to access to drinking water, there remains much work to be done to reduce the significant inequalities that still exist, and reach the ultimate objective of universal access to safe drinking water.

Furthermore, we are still a long way from achieving the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation.

We are facing many challenges: the worldwide population increase; increased urbanization; greater demand for water in many sectors, including food and energy production; inadequate governance; climate change; pollution and the deteriorating quality of water resources; numerous conflicts; and the worldwide financial and economic crisis. These factors combine to increase uncertainty and risk concerning water and sanitation for the future.

In less than four years, world leaders will have to decide on the way forward, based on lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals campaign. The central role water plays in development and its key importance in numerous sectors should be recognized, and priority given in the post-2015 agenda to integrated approaches to the management and use of this precious resource and to sanitation.

In March 2013, the WMO, in collaboration with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the FAO will hold a high-level meeting in Geneva to discuss national policies to combat drought. What is the purpose of this meeting, and what to you expect to achieve from it?

Drought is a natural hazard which is advancing slowly and insidiously. In recent years, concern has grown worldwide that droughts may be increasing in frequency and severity as a result of climate change.

Given the current context, we need to anticipate drought better in order to cope with it in the future. As yet, no concerted action has been taken to develop and adopt national policies to combat drought. Without a national policy based on effective monitoring and early warning systems to deliver timely information to decision makers, appropriate methods of impact assessment, strategies for the early management of risks and consequences, advance planning to strengthen methods of combating drought, and urgent intervention programmes to alleviate its consequences, countries faced with these disasters will continue to adopt a reactive approach to crisis management.

It is with this in mind that the High-level Meeting on National Drought Policy has been planned for March 2013, in collaboration with a number of UN agencies, international and regional organizations and key national bodies. 


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