Saturday, 3 June, 2023

UN Water Conference Should Focus on Achieving SDG 6

Dr. Hamidul Huq and Mohammad Zobair Hasan

The UN World Water Development Report 2021 notes that the current status of water resources highlights the need for improved water resources management. Recognising, measuring and expressing water’s worth and incorporating it into decision-making are fundamental to achieving sustainable and equitable water resources management and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Following the resolution adopted on 20 December 2018 in the General Assembly to do a “Midterm comprehensive review of the implementation of the International Decade for Action in ‘Water for Sustainable Development’ the UN 2023 Water Conference is going to be held on 22-24 Mar 2023 in New York, USA. This conference is co-hosted by the Governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands. The conference will feature an opening and closing ceremony, six plenary meetings and five multi-stakeholder interactive dialogues. It will also feature a number of high-level special events and side events organised by Member States, the UN system and other stakeholders.
Water is a fundamental part of all aspects of life. Water is inextricably linked to the three pillars of sustainable development, and it integrates social, cultural, economic and political values. It is crosscutting and supports the achievement of many SDGs through close linkages with climate, energy, cities, the environment, food security, poverty, gender equality and health, amongst others. With climate change profoundly affecting our economies, societies and environment, water is indeed the biggest deal breaker to achieving the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Though it is widely acknowledged, agreed and accepted that water is nature, the arch, the originating principle and the beginning of all things, it is a painful reality that water pollution is the topmost issue to deal with followed by addressing water shortage, water crises, water misuse, irresponsible uses of water, and commercialising water.
According to UN Secretary General, “We need clear commitments, pledges and actions, across all our sectors, industries and interests, uniting nations, stakeholders and professionals on actions that help deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, actions that can be scaled and replicated in the years to come. Such commitments will be compiled in the Water Action Agenda, another key outcome of the Conference.” The emphasis should be on achieving SDG 6 and other water-related goals and targets, looking at content, process and structure. The existing and future challenges in the field of water require innovative and transformative ideas and a “beyond business as usual” approach.
Social scientists argue that water is not only the beginning of all things, as the old Greeks had already realised, but without water, no life on earth is possible, and clean water is also a precondition for any form of sustainable development. There is enough available freshwater on earth (about 91,000 km3) to supply every individual on earth (about 7.5 billion in 2020). However, due to natural and man-made idiosyncrasies, clean freshwater and sanitation are scarce and, thus, decisions need to be taken on the production, treatment and distribution of water, given underlying technical and socioeconomic conditions. Water needs to be managed efficiently, both with respect to the growing scarcity of resources, as a natural endowment that is indispensable for the survival of mankind, and with respect to the variety of eco-services it delivers. In fact, water is a multifunctional resource that provides people with potable water, secures landscapes in different climate zones and functions as a sink of pollutants emanating from human activities. Thus, a comprehensive approach the likes of a technical understanding of the basic hydrological principles, different economic allocation rules and the institutional framing of the use of water is required.
Problems of water supply and demand are not new; on the contrary, they exist as long as life exists on earth. However, with rising population, environmental challenges, climate change, adverse local conditions, and often a lack of appropriate regulatory and institutional conditions, issues of water management have become global in the last century. Hence, the United Nations is shouldering the role of bringing together the power at a central point to decide policies, plans, programs and actions towards making water use for all. The World Water Council, World Water Forum and many other institutional arrangements of the UN are playing dominant roles in water management globally.
But, water issues remained unsolved in every society in the world. Over 2 billion people lack access to safe water that is drinkable. More than 1.2 million deaths each year are caused by unsafe water. For example, diarrhoea is the world’s second-leading cause of child mortality, claiming the lives of an estimated 525,000 children under five every year. Diarrhoea kills 2,195 children every day – more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined – and can be caused by a lack of access to clean water and sanitation services.
It is well-argued and commonly accepted that water is essential for our lives in countless ways. We use it for various purposes, but less than 1% of the world’s water supply is usable to us. The rest is saltwater, ice, or underground. And we have to make that <1% last for 08 billion people. The global water crisis is proof that we’ve come up dry. The latest reports from the WHO and UNICEF show that hundreds of millions of people are caught in a cycle of thirst — one that feeds into the cycle of poverty. Therefore, the whole world is keeping eyes open for the UN 2023 Water Conference, which ends up identifying more water issues or some solutions.

The writers are a Professor, Dept. Of Environment and Development Studies, United International University and the Deputy Executive Director of DORP respectively