In what can be termed as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity, the United Nations General Assembly, with support from the governments of the Netherlands and Tajikistan, will convene the UN Water Conference in New York next week.
Between March 22-24, world leaders from government, business and civil society will assemble in New York for a historic opportunity, as for the first time since 1977 the United Nations is hosting a conference on the world’s most precious resource: Water.
Billions of people worldwide still live without safely managed drinking water and sanitation, even though access to both services has long been defined as a human right.
Many water sources are becoming more polluted, and ecosystems that provide water are disappearing. Climate change is disrupting the water cycle, causing droughts and floods.
Water is everyone’s business, and the conference is inclusive and cross-sectoral.
The conference — formally known as the 2023 Conference for the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation (2018-2028) — is the most important water event in a generation.
It aims to raise awareness of the global water crisis and decide on concerted action to achieve the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
With many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) off track, progress in implementation of Goal 6 (water and sanitation) is key to the achievement of other SDGs, particularly on health, food, gender equity, education, livelihoods, industry, climate and the environment.
The conference will launch the Water Action Agenda as a main outcome, which represents the voluntary commitments at all levels, including by governments, institutions, and local communities. The agenda will help mobilize action by governments, sectors and stakeholders to meet the global water-related goals and targets.
Currently 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries, of which more than 733 million people –approximately 10 per cent of the global population — live in countries with high and critical water stress.
Water scarcity, drought, floods, pollution and other climate change impacts are key challenges to sustainable agriculture and rural development.
What to expect at the UN 2023 Water Conference?
Described as a “one-in-a-generation” opportunity, the UN 2023 Water Conference will seek to develop innovative and transformative ideas and a “beyond business as usual” approach to deliver clear commitments, pledges, and actions, across all sectors, industries, and interests, explained Lynn Wagner of Earth Negotiations Bulletin.
The CEO Water Mandate has played a key role in positioning the private sector at the conference and has an extensive program of events for companies attending the event.
Convening events both onsite and offsite, the CEO Water Mandate calls on the global private sector to actively participate and help shape a more water-resilient future. The time to act is now.
The UN DESA and the Sustainable Water & Energy Solutions Network on the margins of the conference on March 23 will bring together multi-stakeholders to discuss and showcase existing initiatives addressing the water-energy nexus and share knowledge on replicable and scalable effective solutions.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has already initiated several important actions in the lead-up to the UN Water Conference and will play a key role in the event.
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu will moderate the Interactive Dialogue 5 on “Water Action Decade: Accelerating the implementation of the objectives of the Decade, including through the UN Secretary-General’s Action Plan”.
FAO, as the UN co-lead agency, together with the UN Development Programme and the World Bank, will also provide technical support to co-convene the Interactive Dialogue 2 on “Water for Sustainable Development: Valuing Water, Water-Energy-Food Nexus and Sustainable Economic and Urban Development”.
FAO will also organize the side event “National Water Roadmaps towards the 2030 Agenda,” and will co-partner and support three special events, in addition to over 20 other side events.
In the run-up to the water summit, which will call governments, companies and individuals to take concerted actions and commitments to achieve the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, a UN report says the rapidly-growing bottled water industry can undermine progress towards a key sustainable development goal: Safe water for all.
Based on an analysis of literature and data from 109 countries, the report says that in just five decades bottled water has developed into “a major and essentially standalone economic sector,” experiencing 73 per cent growth from 2010 to 2020.
And sales are expected to almost double by 2030, from $270 billion to $500 billion.
Released a few days prior to World Water Day (March 22), the report by UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) concludes that the unrestricted expansion of the bottled water industry aceis not aligned strategically with the goal of providing universal access to drinking water or at least slows global progress in this regard, distracting development efforts and redirecting attention to a less reliable and less affordable option for many, while remaining highly profitable for producers.”
Adds Kaveh Madani, UNU-INWEH’s new Director: “The rise in bottled water consumption reflects decades of limited progress in and many failures of public water supply systems.”
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)