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IAEA's Work for World's Development Goals Highlighted

IAEA is helping countries to tap and manage water supplies

The IAEA is helping countries tap and manage water supplies using nuclear techniques. (Credit: G. Bizarri / UN FAO)

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The IAEA's work is contributing to progress towards global development goals for helping people in the world's poorer countries. Activities in key areas of water and environment were among those reviewed at the latest session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at the United Nations in New York.

The IAEA's activities highlight how nuclear science and technology can help boost incomes and support broader-based efforts for meeting basic human needs. The Guarani Aquifer System, for example, is just one of 73 IAEA projects looking at how the world’s dwindling freshwater supplies can be sustained. The aquifer is shared by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay and is considered to be one of the most important fresh groundwater reservoirs. It’s an international effort, with the IAEA’s focus on finding ways for all four countries to share the aquifer in a way that won’t cause it to run dry into the future. A nuclear tool, called isotope hydrology, is used to give scientists indispensable information about how much water is available in the aquifer, its quality, how quickly it is replenished and where it flows from. Piecing that information together reveals how the precious resource can best be managed. The Agency is using such isotopic tools to encourage sustainable water management in China, Namibia, Indonesia, El Salvador and many other countries across the globe.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan outlined just how vital water management was at the CSD session, which concluded 30 April. "Poor water management degrades and squanders a precious resource. It is linked to the urbanization of poverty, since rural impoverishment rooted in water and land-tenure issues drives people to migrate to already crowded cities - and most often to their growing slums. Tensions over water could even generate conflict, within and across borders, although water also offers great opportunities for cooperation. So the stakes are high. Without an integrated approach, we could face a tangle of problems. But with one, we could generate a cascade of progress," the Secretary General said.

Land degradation is also firmly on the IAEA’s agenda, as its works toward sustainable development of the earth’s resources in a way that allows social progress and economic development. For example, since 1997 the IAEA has supported six countries - Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, and Tunisia - in the fight to turn arid wasteland into economically productive fields. Efforts have paid off with salt-tolerant plants now growing in the wastelands, providing sources of food or income for farmers.

Among its roles, the IAEA is serving as lead partner for a number of projects under the Partnerships for Sustainable Development initiative born at the World Summit in Johannesburg in 2002.