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Address by His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC (Retd) on the occasion of the close of the United Nations Youth Association of Australia National Youth Conference: Sidney Myer Asia Centre, Melbourne University: 9 July 2004.\n\n

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9 JULY 2004

The Honourable Monica Gould, MLC, President, Legislative Council The Honourable Judy Maddigan, MLA, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Professor Dow, Vice Chancellor, University of Melbourne Ms Kate Longhurst, National President of the United Nations Youth Association Ms Eleanor Jenkin, Convenor of the 2004 UNYA National Youth Conference Delegates and facilitators of the United Nations Youth Association National Youth Conference 2004 Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for the invitation to close the 2004 United Nations Youth Association of Australia National Youth Conference and accept its youth declaration.

I am a firm believer in the importance of the role of the United Nations and think the United Nations Youth Association is a great concept.

My association with the conference during my term as Governor of Western Australia left me highly impressed with the calibre of delegates and young leaders.

Perhaps it is the sight of blue-helmeted peacekeepers on our TV screens that have emerged as the most visible role associated with United Nations activities.

However the United Nations is much more than a peacekeeper and forum for conflict resolution.

Its family of agencies is engaged in a vast array of work that touches every aspect of people's lives around the world: child survival and development; environmental protection; human rights; health and medical research; alleviation of poverty and economic development; agricultural development and fisheries; education; family planning; emergency and disaster relief; air and sea travel; peaceful uses of atomic energy; labour and workers' rights; the list goes on.

For example:

● From 1957 to 2003, there were 55 UN peacekeeping missions involving troops from 130 nations. There are

presently 16 active peacekeeping forces in operation around the world involving troops from 89 countries. ● Since 1945, the United Nations has been credited with negotiating 172 peaceful settlements that have ended

regional conflicts.

● More than 30 million refugees fleeing war, famine or persecution have received aid from the UN High

Commissioner for Refugees since 1951. ● UN agencies have worked to make safe drinking water available to 1.3 billion people in rural areas during the

last decade. ● A 13-year effort by the World Health Organisation resulted in the complete eradication of smallpox from the

planet in 1980. The eradication has saved an estimated $1 billion a year in vaccination and monitoring. ● The United Nations Environmental Program led a major effort to clean up the Mediterranean Sea. It

encouraged adversaries such as Syria and Israel, Turkey and Greece to work together to clean up beaches. As a result, more than 50 per cent of the previously polluted beaches are now usable. ● The UN Population Fund, through its family planning programs, has enabled people to make informed

choices, and consequently given families, and especially women, greater control over their lives. As a result, women in developing countries are having fewer children - averaging from six births per woman in the 1960s to 3.5 today.

This year’s conference theme, Developing Direction, has allowed delegates to explore many issues that relate to the UN’s role in facilitating sustainable development.

However, your conference has also discussed a wider range of topics, including Australia’s role in the international community, human rights, the environment, reconciliation, UN reform and structure, and the role of youth in addressing such issues.

The conference’s dual focus; on both international issues and domestic policy, makes it a most useful forum for communicating youth opinion and encouraging young people to consider their role in the international community.

Tonight I would like to touch on just three of the many challenges facing humankind as we move further into this century.

These are problems without borders: water, HIV/AIDS and human rights.

Water is a vital resource and perhaps the greatest issue facing the world today.

To underscore the importance of water, the United Nations declared 2003 as the International Year of Fresh Water while the General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution proclaiming the period from 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action, "Water for Life", starting on World Water Day, March 22, 2005.

The decade’s goal is for "a greater focus on water-related issues, with emphasis on women as managers of water to help to achieve internationally agreed water-related goals"; that is, to halve by 2015 the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water and who do not have access to basic sanitation.

Water is particularly important in developing countries.

This year’s report, Waterworks: A consumer advocacy guide to water and sanitation, by Consumers International, which represents more than 250 consumer organisations in 115 countries, released some salient facts on water:

● Poor women in Africa and Asia walk an average of six kilometres a day to collect water. Indeed, poor rural

women in developing countries may spend up to eight hours a day collecting water, carrying up to 20 kilos of water on their heads each journey.

● One in 10 school-age girls in Africa do not attend school during menstruation or drop out at puberty because of

the absence of clean and private sanitation facilities in schools. ● Every day 6,000 girls and boys die from diseases linked to unsafe water, inadequate health and poor hygiene.

Women are the main caretakers for sick children and adults. ● High prices charged for water, whether by private or public companies, force poor women to buy from vendors

or use contaminated or unsafe water. ● A woman living in a slum in Kenya pays at least five times more for one litre of water than a woman in a

developed country.

Water is so precious I would suggest that its availability, distribution and cleanliness should be treated as the vital world resource requiring immediate, continuing and non-partisan attention.

Today, nearly half a billion people don't have enough drinking water. That number is expected to increase to 2.8 billion people by 2025.

The world needs to be creative and more efficient in the way it uses water. Here in Australia, the CSIRO's Urban Water Program national research project, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, is analysing the way Australia uses, transports and disposes of its water and sewage.

As less than three per cent of the Earth's water is fresh, and much of it is in the form of polar ice or too deep underground to reach, one solution worthy of your consideration is the development of affordable desalination facilities that turns salt water into drinking water.

De-salination is however a very high energy user.

Improved water management techniques now available for agricultural and domestic use, should also attract your interest.

Projects that provide safe, clean water improve the health of families.

This is especially important in countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS where water is essential for hygiene.

HIV/AIDS is developing into a major global problem.

Of the 30 million people with HIV infection or AIDS, at least 10 million are aged between 10 and 24 years according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

It is estimated that every day 7,000 young people worldwide acquire the virus. This means that there are around 2.6 million new infections a year among young people, including 1.7 million in Africa and 700,000 in Asia and the Pacific.

Young people account for at least 50 per cent of those who become infected after infancy and in some countries the figure exceeds 60 per cent.

Over nine-tenths of the epidemic is now concentrated in developing countries.

As a result of HIV/AIDS more than 13 million orphaned children are living on the most meagre of resources.

The new phenomenon on the continent of Africa is the rising number of households headed by children.

One solution to this growing epidemic is appropriate education about sex and HIV.

As young people, you are in an excellent position to develop programs suitable to deliver such education to your peers around the world.

By turning your attention to finding ways to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, treatment, care and support, you will help identify solutions and build a future in which people live more healthy and meaningful lives.

Allowing people to live meaningful lives also requires respect for human rights.

As UN secretary general Kofi Annan has said: “To pursue security at the expense of human rights is short-sighted, self-contradictory, and, in the long run, self-defeating.”

The UN’s founders envisaged that the Security Council would have access to a standing force, permanently on call, to ensure international peace and security. Cold War antagonisms thwarted that ambition.

However the UN’s system of peacekeeping forces has helped resolve international conflicts.

Today, with the Cold War over, there is much debate on the need to reform the UN Security Council so that it can have as an option, the capacity to prevent holocausts occurring as has happened in Rwanda, Kosovo, Sudan and Ethiopia.

As Kofi Annan has intimated on several occasions recently, the world can no longer sit by and allow genocide and ethnic cleansing to occur, or a million people starve to death, because of a lack of global will.

As tomorrow’s leaders I encourage you to seriously consider methods to make the UN more responsive to security concerns so we can prevent wars and thus help to eradicate the poverty and disease that inevitably follow.

In September 2000 at the United Nations Millennium Summit, all 191 member states agreed on eight Millennium Development Goals and pledged to meet them by the 2015.

These are: to,

● eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;

● achieve universal primary education;

● promote gender equality and empower women;

● reduce child mortality;

● improve maternal health;

● combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;

● ensure environmental sustainability; and

● develop a global partnership for development.

They are splendid objectives.

As our world develops more into a global village, your enthusiasm, commitment and desire will help achieve these goals and make our world a better place in which to live.

This conference’s Youth Declaration will facilitate the expression of your opinions to governments and society.

It will help recognise, respect and capitalise on the unique role young people can play in contributing to a better world.

It is now my pleasure to accept your declaration and officially close the United Nations Association of Australia Youth Conference 2004.

Thank you.