Faced with increasing pressures on water from increased consumer demand, increased pollution and climate change, world leaders, civil society, business, youth and other stakeholders are coming together at the Conference of the United Nations on Water 2023, which is being held from March 22 to 24 at the UN headquarters in New York, in order to make bold commitments to address the global water crisis. The session coincides with World Water Day.
In a statement issued this morning, the General secretary of the UN referred to the Conference on Water as “a crucial moment for national governments, local and regional authorities, companies, scientists, youth, civil society organizations and communities to join forces and so that co-design solutions for clean water and sanitation for all and invest in them.”
During the opening session, António Guterres highlighted the vital role of water in ensuring “human survival and well-being and for the economic development and prosperity of each country”, a precious resource whose availability is declining.
“Drop by drop, this precious vital resource is being poisoned by pollution and sucked into an insatiable over-exploitation, and demand for water is projected to exceed supply by 40% by the end of the decade”, explained the UN leader.
Guterres highlighted four measures to take into account to ensure universal access to water: effective public policies and intergovernmental collaboration; invest massively in water and sanitation systems; and the resilience and innovationfinding solutions and infrastructures that are resistant and adequate for the conservation of the environment and the protection of water.
Finally, the head of the UN made reference to the consequences of climate change and its effects on the natural water cycle, ensuring that it aggravates catastrophes, scarcity and droughts, while causing damage to infrastructure, food production and supply chains.
In this sense, Guterres urged the G30 governments, companies and investors to “break the addiction” to fossil fuels and adopt renewable energies, and thus limit the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Political will and cooperation
For his part, the president of the general Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, urged to work “in favor of people and the planet, not procrastination and profit. Even in times of growing geopolitical division.”
The president highlighted the need to find innovative solutions and assured that achieving water security “begins with the political will, economic savvy, and cultural tolerance and acceptance. The recognition of what has led us to the water crisis and the understanding of the integrated nature of the solutions we need”.
Kőrösi called for the creation of a “common financial culture” that is water, climate and biodiversity smart and integrated policies at local, national and global levels that foster cooperation. “We can work together to empower States and stakeholders through the global information system, which is our life insurance to solve the dilemma of water availability, demand and storage”.
“We need to agree on an education pact to make sure we have the knowledge, wisdom and new thinking to conceive and implement an integrated agenda on water, climate, energy and food,” he added.
Poor sanitation means more deaths
Simultaneously, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have called on all nations to radically accelerate action to make water, sanitation and hygiene a reality for all.
Millions of children and families lack adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services, including soap for handwashing. This translates into deaths from preventable causes related to unfit drinking water and poor sanitation.
It is estimated that each year at least 1.4 million people, many of them children, die for these reasons. For example, cholera is now spreading in countries that have not had an outbreak in decades.
Half of healthcare facilities, where proper hygiene practices are especially critical, lack soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer solution.
Less education and more commuting
The social and economic consequences of inadequate water and sanitation services are also devastating. Without these critical services, when children get sick, they don’t go to school and if there is a shortage, entire communities can be displaced looking for water.
At the same time, the benefits of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, for both individuals and societies, offer a pathway to broader social and economic progress by supporting community health and productivity.
The solutions already exist
Collectively, the world needs to at least quadruple the pace of current rates to achieve universal access to safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services by 2030. Progress must be even faster in fragile contexts and in the poorest countries , to protect the health and future of people.
In this regard, UN agencies have ensured that workable solutions are available and a historic opportunity to turn them into action and have urged governments to take some steps with the support of UN agencies, multilateral partners, the private sector and civil society organizations.
According to the agencies, it is essential to drive change through government leadership, developing plans to increase political commitment and include the participation of civil society. This must be accompanied by strategies that strengthen the governance and accountability of institutions that provide water and sanitation services.
In the economic field, it is necessary to develop clear political objectives and financing strategies that take into account the needs of different regions and population groups, increase public spending and encourage providers to improve the performance of their services.
These policies should be accompanied by plans to create a strong, diverse workforce and balanced between men and women, with stronger skills and capable of offering professional services, especially in rural communities.
Accelerating these changes depends largely on collect data and track at the national level in an institutionalized manner, using coherent methodologies. Transparently share and use the information collected to make more effective decisions.
Lastly, it is necessary encourage innovation and experimentation on water, sanitation and hygiene and collaboration between government, civil society groups and private sector actors to develop and implement new solutions.
About the Conference
Co-hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan, the Conference is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to advance the Water Action Agenda that seeks to meet internationally agreed goals and targets related to water, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The key outcome of the 2023 UN Water Conference will be the Water Action Agenda, a collection of commitments from Member States and other stakeholders that aims to present innovative solutions to accelerate progress on Sustainable Development Goal number number 6.
To date, there have been more than 500 commitments from governments, UN agencies, business leaders and civil society, ranging from targeting open data sources and improving education around water, to scaling up effective water management practices and mobilizing funds to drive action on water.