Switzerland at the forefront of efforts to tackle the global water challenge

Bern, Press release, 15.09.2010

By 2025, one in two people will suffer from a lack of fresh water. Population growth, uncontrolled urbanisation, migration, and climate change will place greater demands on the planet’s water resources, making water security one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. Switzerland, whose stewardship of its own water resources has been exemplary, continues to pursue its decades-long international commitment to the water sector. Nevertheless, given the growing complexity of water-related problems, Switzerland needs to step up its own efforts and those of the multilateral organisations to which it belongs. On 15 September, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) hosted a public forum in Berne, during which it reviewed activities to date and launched a discussion on new ways to tackle the global water challenge.

Today, one billion people have no access to drinking water, 2.6 billion are deprived of basic sanitation. Every day 5,000 children die as a direct result of a lack of clean water and adequate hygiene facilities. Society in general also suffers from the knock-on effects of this situation, which further perpetuate the vicious circle of poverty. Improved water access will lead to a better quality of life and better health, mitigate the risk of conflict, facilitate the access of women to education, raise disposable income, reduce the time households spend fetching water, and shore up food security. 

“Water is key to ending poverty”, declared the SDC Director-General Martin Dahinden during the SDC public forum. A number of guest speakers drawn from the public and private sectors, the world of research, and Swiss NGOs, as well as two experts from the World Bank (WB) also addressed the forum.  

Effective partnerships with multilaterals 

The SDC reminded the forum that Switzerland can look back on more than 30 years recognised expertise and cooperation experience in the water sector. Its international commitment is motivated not only by solidarity but also by a keen sense of responsibility. As Europe’s reservoir, Switzerland is heavily dependent on the water resources of others: 80% of its ‘water footprint’, i.e. the amount of water we need to produce our goods and services, comes from other countries, especially from those already affected by water scarcity. To improve the effectiveness of its efforts, Switzerland fosters partnerships at many different levels. 

Between 2003 and 2008, nearly 2 million more people gained access to drinking water and basic sanitation, and some 150,000 smallholders acquired more efficient irrigation systems thanks to the joint efforts of the SDC and the State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO). Switzerland has also developed a strong working partnership with the World Bank and has a permanent seat on its Board of Directors. Over the last 10 years, the WB has financed or improved access to drinking water and sanitation for over 100 million people living in poor countries. Through their work, the WB and Switzerland have succeeded in putting sanitation on the international agenda.  

Moving forward thanks to increased investment and new approaches 

In light of ever more complex problems and the looming threat of a global water crisis, Julia Bucknall from the “Water” department of the World Bank called for more investment: “Here, bilateral fund donors like Switzerland and multilateral organisations like the World Bank have a vital role to play”. This view was also echoed by Martin Dahinden:  “We need to intensify our efforts if we are to mitigate the impending threat of a global water crisis”. 

A number of experts from a wide range of backgrounds, including Wolfgang Kinzelbach, professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Melchior Lengsfeld, Director-general of the NGO Helvetas, John Dupraz, vice-president of the Swiss Farmers’ Union, Sébastien Humbert, a scientific advisor with Switcher, and Christian Frutiger, Public Affairs Manager at Nestlé, shared their views on the water-related challenges they believe that the world faces. During the “Investment Matters” debate, experts outlined various ways through which Switzerland and multilateral organisations can bolster their efforts to tackle the global water challenge, including the widespread dissemination of proven and effective innovative solutions, fighting corruption and creating more bilateral and multilateral partnerships. 

Information and queries 

FDFA: Carole Wälti, spokesperson, +41 (0)31 324 32 03; +41 (0)79 370 14 35

Further information:

The SDC commitment in the water sector

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: (+41) 031 322 31 53
Fax: (+41) 031 324 90 47
E-Mail: info@eda.admin.ch


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs