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20 September 2011 | Vienna, Austria
14th Scientific Forum during the 55th Session of the IAEA General Conference

Water Matters - Making a Difference with Nuclear Techniques

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Distinguished Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to welcome you to the 2011 IAEA Scientific Forum, which is devoted to the issue of nuclear techniques related to water. It is a special pleasure for me to be joined by such a distinguished panel in the opening session: Secretary Chu, Mr Banerjee and Vice Minister Bourrouet Vargas. I know you will be anxious to hear what these very knowledgeable speakers have to say, so I will be brief.

The IAEA Scientific Forum is a valuable platform to highlight the important work which the Agency does in sustainable development. This side of the Agency's work does not get the same attention as our activities in nuclear safeguards, safety and security - but it is just as important, and of great value to the countries which benefit.

Having focussed on cancer control last year, I thought nuclear techniques related to water would be an appropriate subject for this year's Forum. To quote the title of this event, Water Matters. There is virtually no area of human activity that does not depend on water. It is vital for human health, for agriculture, for industrial production, for technological development.

Water is the stuff of life, but in so many parts of the world it is a source of serious problems. Many regions face acute water shortages, of which the current African drought is just the latest tragic example. One billion people have no access to adequate drinking water. Five million - mainly children - die each year due to water-borne diseases. Those numbers are expected to rise.

By contrast, Pakistan is once again grappling with serious flooding, which has caused hundreds of deaths, forced millions of people from their homes and washed away vital crops. In many regions, pollution is a threat to the world's most precious natural resource - our oceans and seas. These are the source of much of our food and are vital for maintaining global climate balance.

For over half a century, the IAEA has been deploying its unique expertise in using nuclear techniques to understand and manage water. In more than 90 countries, our experts work with national counterparts to find, manage and conserve freshwater supplies and protect our oceans. I am pleased that many of those national counterparts are with us today.

Through the Agency's Technical Cooperation Programme we bring these techniques directly to the field, where they are used to benefit our Member States. We currently have over 100 water projects around the world that are using nuclear techniques.

For example, in the Santa Elena province in Ecuador, the IAEA has worked with local partners to give over a quarter of a million people continuous access to fresh water for the first time. I saw this successful project myself in July. Together with our partners, we investigate and measure the aquifers so that wells can be drilled in the right places and long-term sustainability of water supply is assured. I am delighted that representatives from the local community are with us today.

The IAEA is working with partners in Bangladesh to mitigate contamination of groundwater by natural arsenic, the worst such case in the world. The use of nuclear techniques made it possible to locate safe alternative supplies of water quickly and cheaply.

In 19 African countries, where there are serious water shortages, the IAEA is helping farmers to use small-scale irrigation technology, supported by nuclear techniques, to make sure that every drop of water reaches the crops to produce greater yields.

In this Scientific Forum, we are highlighting three key areas of the Agency's work that are already delivering benefits to Member States: water resource assessment, water use efficiency in agriculture, and protecting the oceans.

We are fortunate to have real experts with considerable experience in all of these fields. I look forward to the active input of all of you in the next few days. Your insights and ideas will be vigorously followed up to help us improve the quality of services we offer to Member States, in cooperation with our many partners - national and international - who are represented here today.

With the expertise assembled in this room, we will be better able to meet the challenges which the world faces in the area of water and to make a meaningful difference to the lives of many thousands of people.

I hope you have a very successful meeting and look forward to learning of the outcome of your discussions tomorrow.

Thank you.