The UN 2023 Water Conference: The staggering numbers and urgent action needed
The UN 2023 Water Conference will take place March 22-24 in New York City. It is a midterm review of the Water Action Decade, which will raise awareness of the importance of water and mobilize action to address global water-related challenges.
Take a moment to think about the following numbers:
About 300,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water. These deaths could have been avoided by access to the daily clean water situation that most readers of this newsletter are used to.
2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services
Over half the global population, 4.2 billion people, lack safely managed sanitation services.
What do you feel when you read these numbers? Are you shocked? I have seen the numbers too often to feel shocked, but I can't see them without feeling a deep disappointment about our slow progress towards the goals of Agenda 2030.
I feel embarrassed and angry about our world's extreme inequality. Billionaires fly in space for fun while babies die because of poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. We don't need rocket science to solve these problems; we know how to clean water and build a toilet. We need the political will.
And let's not forget that we talk about human rights in case anyone needs more convincing; in 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. So, for instance, everyone has the right to enough water for personal and domestic uses, which is between 50 and 100 liters of water per person per day. And the water must be safe, acceptable, and affordable.
Water plays a fundamental role in sustainable development and is indispensable for social and economic progress, energy and food production, healthy ecosystems, and human survival. Moreover, water is crucial in adapting to climate change, as it is the essential link between society and the environment.
As the world's population grows, it becomes increasingly essential to balance the competing demands on water resources to ensure that communities have enough to meet their needs. In particular, women and girls must have access to safe and clean sanitation facilities to manage menstruation and maternity with dignity and safety.
At the individual level, it is crucial to recognize that water cannot be viewed in isolation from sanitation. Both are essential to reducing the global disease burden and improving populations' health, education, and economic productivity.
A conference to deliver on promisses made
Despite its significance, water scarcity and poor quality remain significant global challenges. In response, the United Nations is holding the 2023 Water Conference, a high-level event that will bring together water experts, policymakers, and stakeholders to discuss the importance of water and find solutions to the water-related issues facing our world. The aim of the conference is not to negotiate new commitments, but to make sure that countries deliver on promises already made
The conference will have five interactive dialogues, each focusing on water management and governance. These dialogues are:
Water for Health: Access to WASH, including the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation
Water for Sustainable Development: Valuing Water, Water-Energy-Food Nexus and Sustainable Economic and Urban Development
Water for Climate, Resilience, and Environment: Source to Sea, Biodiversity, Climate, Resilience, and DRR
Water for Cooperation: Transboundary and International Water Cooperation, Cross-Sectoral Cooperation, including Scientific Cooperation, and Water Across the 2030 Agenda
Water Action Decade: Accelerating the implementation of the objectives of the Decade, including through the Action Plan of the UN Secretary-General.
The Water Action Agenda
The 2023 Water Conference is expected to be a milestone event in the global effort to address water-related challenges. It will provide an opportunity to share best practices and lessons learned, foster partnerships and collaboration, and mobilize resources and political will to achieve SDG6. But that doesn't make the conference the endpoint of a process. The co-hosts of the meeting, the Netherlands and Tadjikistan, have launched a Water Action Agenda to further amplify the conference's impact. It aims to provide a platform for groundbreaking initiatives to accelerate water action.
This Water Action Agenda is crucial because the world is currently lagging behind in achieving the water-related goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. So to effectively make a difference, the new commitments to achieve the earlier agreed goals of 2015 must be practical and action-oriented. We will need a fourfold increase in ambition. And it's important to note that addressing the water crisis is not the sole responsibility of governments; all sectors of society must be involved. Contributions from cities, regions, NGOs, and businesses will be vital in driving the success of the Water Action Agenda.
And a Dutch-NYC additional event: the New York Water Week
The Netherlands government and the City of New York also host the New York Water Week. This initiative is being organized alongside the UN 2023 Water Conference between March 18th and 24th and is independent of the United Nations. New York Water Week will feature various activities focused on water-related topics, in-person and online, throughout New York City. It's a vibrant mix of debates and activities contributing to the Water Action Agenda. The goal is to make the event accessible to as many people as possible and to ensure engagement and collaboration across sectors and communities.
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