“We all have a responsibility to our society, country and planet. We must work together if we are to tackle the current challenges and share peace, prosperity and security. We are counting upon you, the young generation, to create the world of the future which is increasingly yours. We are relying on your creativity, energy and enthusiasm to foster dialogue and find constructive solutions,” declared the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), Didier Burkhalter, at the official opening ceremony of the 13th session of the European Youth Parliament for Water notably attended by the singer Bastian Baker.
Founded in 1998, the EYPW aims to promote the participation of young people in water policies and to raise their awareness of the challenges of water management through workshops, discussions with experts and elected representatives, and field trips. This is the second time that such a meeting is being held in Switzerland. The topic selected this year for the 13th EYPW – ‘Water and risk management’ – is very much in line with Switzerland’s activities in the water sector. Possessing extensive expertise in the field, Switzerland has made water a priority issue in its foreign policy. Through the SDC, it has been working towards sustainable management of water resources for over 30 years.
While it is estimated today that global demand for water will increase by 50% by 2050, the major challenge is distributing water fairly between households, agriculture and industry, and also between countries. In this respect, Switzerland drew up its ‘water and security’ lines of action in 2015, underlining that the issue of water lies at the intersection between peace and development. It has developed an innovative initiative (Blue Peace) based on the concept that water – which is sometimes a contributing factor to divisions and tensions – can become an instrument of peace and cooperation between countries. Last November, Switzerland, together with 14 partner states, set up a high-level panel in Geneva tasked with drawing up specific proposals in this field.
In his opening remarks to the EYPW, Mr Didier Burkhalter underlined that the young members of parliament can, upon returning to their countries, play a part in turning the issue of water into a peacebuilding instrument. To foster their creativity and to encourage their efforts, he announced that Switzerland will support their specific contributions over a two-year period by providing eight to ten annual grants, each worth CHF 2,500, in addition to the annual contribution of CHF 100,000 for the period 2016–18 which the SDC will transfer to the NGO ‘Solidarité Eau Europe – Secrétariat International de l’eau’ (Solidarity Water Europe – International Secretariat for Water) that is behind the EYPW.
These grants will be awarded to ‘pairs’, bringing together two national delegations which will work together on water projects. At the 10th EYPW, which was held in the Netherlands in 2011, the ‘Agis pour ton future’ (Act for your future) project was launched. This focuses on the production of teaching material by the pupils at the ‘Gymnase de Burier’ to raise awareness of water governance amongst pupils of mandatory school age and is a project that continues to develop. The young MPs who came together at the 13th session of the EYPW will also draw up a ‘declaration on water’ which will be presented to the Council of Europe.
Statement by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter
SDC: Water – a vital resource under threat
International Secretariat for Water – Solidarity Water Europe (fr)
Gymnase de Burier – ‘Agis pour ton futur’ (Act for your future) project (fr)
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