Opening address of Hungarian president Áder János at Financial Times conference „New approaches to protecting supply and reputation”

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me here. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the most important question for the twenty-first century.

Today's conference is about water.

Water, which is the source of our life; water, on which our societies are based; water, which is central to our health and development in the future. And increasingly it connects us, wherever we live in the world.

Over the past years a number of think tanks, universities and international organizations have published studies on climate change and the approaching water crisis.

What kind of a world are we living in today?

In February a Dutch university released a study about this question. Its key conclusions were the following: At least two-thirds of the world's population (four billion people) live with water scarcity for at least one month of the year. One point eight billion people suffer from water scarcity for at least six months of the year. Five hundred million people live in parts of the world where water extraction is more than twice the amount which can be naturally replaced.

What does our future look like?

Twenty fifty is only thirty-four years away. Biologically speaking, even I myself have a chance of seeing this (I would be ninety-one years old).

But my children and your children – not to mention our grandchildren – will surely witness the middle of the twenty-first century.

I would like to focus on three main problems: the demographic time bomb, water pollution and energy security.

Problem One, the demographic time bomb

Over the past ten years the population of the Sahel region has grown by more than one hundred million. (It is now four hundred and seventy-one million.) This number will double by twenty fifty.

At the same time there is less and less rainfall in the region, soil degradation continues while crop output is flat.

And the situation is not much better in other places, outside of the Sahel: in India, Bangladesh or Afghanistan. (Currently more than one billion people live in those countries.)

According to a UN study, fifty million people will be forced to leave their homes because of land degradation over the next ten years.

If only half – or even a quarter – of these forecast figures prove correct, it is likely that humanity will face an unprecedented challenge – a challenge not seen since the dawn of human history.

If we add some more data to these forecasts, a gloomy future unfolds before our eyes. By twenty fifty seventy-five per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. How can we supply them with enough water? How can we provide suitable sanitation for them? If we fail, how are we going to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases? If prevention fails, will we have enough resources to cure people? (Mind you, half of the world's hospital beds today are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases.)

Problem Two, water pollution

In the developing world, ninety per cent of waste water is discharged, untreated, into rivers and seas. Rivers, lakes and oceans are the prime source of protein for every seventh person in the world. At the same time, life has become extinct in a substantial part of rivers in many countries. A significant part of rivers is littered with floating plastic waste. Decomposing plastic is ingested by aquatic species and – as it rises through the food chain – by humans. Unless we stop polluting, by twenty fifty there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.

Problem Three, energy supply

Growing populations have increasing energy demands. Hydroelectric power plants seemed to be the cost-effective power source for the twentieth century. In recent years, however, we have witnessed reservoirs drying up for shorter or longer periods. The closing down of turbines at the Guri hydroelectric plant in Venezuela led to power cuts in three countries. Two years ago power plants on the River Po (in Italy) were shut down in the summer due to prolonged drought and water shortages.

Electricity can be generated by coal-fired power plants. Yes, but this raises CO2 emissions and requires immense amounts of water. Coal-fired power stations account for seven per cent of global water consumption. In other words, these coal-fired power plants consume water which would be enough to supply one point two billion people.

Let me highlight two more facts and two more projections. The two facts: eighty per cent of climate change impacts are linked to water, three quarters of jobs worldwide are in some way dependent on water.

The two projections: we have twenty years at most to prevent the looming water crisis, this would require an annual investment of six hundred billion dollars. (These are projections by the World Bank and the World Water Council.)

The question is, can we shift towards more sustainable water management?

The answer will influence the following: our water supply, our food production, our health, our urbanization, our industrial development, our energy production, our biodiversity, our environmental sustainability, peace and security and, last but not least, your profits.

Due to lack of time, I would like to ask you only a few questions, questions related to our shared responsibility, and to your personal and corporate responsibility.

Let us first ask the questions on our shared responsibility:

Question One: Research and Development

When it comes to research and development, the water sector lags far behind other industries – such as IT, communications, medicine, transport or energy. What should we do to radically and quickly change this situation?

Question Two: Infrastructure

We are seriously falling behind in building and modernizing water infrastructure. What kind of national and international decisions are needed to change this?

Question Three: Financing

Nowadays we are underutilizing the available funds. What shall we do to change this, and to make the required six hundred billion dollars available?

This pressing issue will be on the agenda of the Budapest Water Summit and the High Level Panel on Water, during its meeting to be held on the sidelines of the Summit.

Question Four: Personnel

The water infrastructure cannot be operated without enough well-trained professionals. How shall we develop the vocational training to ensure that there are no work force shortages in the future?

Finally, a few questions addressing your personal and corporate responsibilities.

Some of you here represent the food and beverage industry. Are you doing the utmost to ensure sustainable water management in all your factory locations? Are you prepared for the technological change required to replace plastic bottles and plastic packaging with environmentally friendly alternatives?

The textile industry

Today it takes seven thousand six hundred litres of water to make a pair of jeans. We know that cotton is one of the most water- intensive crops. Are you prepared for a technological change to significantly reduce the water demand of the textile industry, and to reduce discharged pollutants to zero?

The car industry (though there may be no one representing them here today.)

Today it takes one hundred and fifty thousand litres of water to make a car. Is the automotive industry prepared to introduce a closed-loop water management system? Not only at plants in the developed world, but also in developing countries.

We could ask similar questions of the industries represented here. I shall not do that now, due to lack of time. But allow me to ask you all one final question. You all have well-developed networks of contacts in the world of politics and government. Are you – are we – doing our best to raise water to the top of the political agenda?

Words must be followed by actions.

Let us not forget that it is not only our collective future that is at stake, but also the future of your companies.

In carrying the debate forward, I would like to call your attention to the thought of Dénes Gábor, a Hungarian-born scientist and Nobel Laureate. More than five decades ago he wrote the following: “Until now humanity has had to struggle with Mother Nature itself; from now on, it will have to struggle with human nature.”

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