UN Water Conference kicks off as world marks World Water Day

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A landmark United Nations (UN) Water Conference has opened in New York with key messages – water is in deep trouble and that the world faces a global water crisis.

Also marking World Water Day, the conference seeks to place the preservation and sustainable consumption of water on a global stage amid concerning data that water-related targets within the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDG) remains alarmingly off track, jeopardising the entire development agenda.

UN Water Conference begins in New York on Wednesday: 

The ongoing global water and sanitation crisis has been framed as a threat to everyone, as climate change, coupled with poor water management, increases or multiplies the risks in all aspects of life.

The General Assembly was awash in music and the colour blue as delegations descend to galvanise game-changing commitments to bring the Water Action Agenda to life with the UN Chief Antonio Guterres framing the debate.

“Water is in deep trouble. We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use and evaporating it through global heating. We’ve broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater. Nearly, three out of four natural disasters are linked to water. One in four people lives without safely managed water services or clean drinking water. Over 1.7 billion people lack basic sanitation. Half-a-billion practice open defecation. And millions of women and girls spend hours every day fetching water,” says Gueterrs.

At the centre of this conference is Goal 6 of the SDGs focused on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation of all with key targets: achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all; achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all; end open defecation; improve water quality and reduce pollution and expand international cooperation and capacity building support to developing countries.

Gueterres has described the gathering as more than just a conference on water.

“It is a conference on today’s world seen from the perspective of its most important resource. This conference must represent a quantum leap in the capacity of member states and the international community to recognise and act upon the vital importance of water to our world’s sustainability and as a tool to foster peace and international co-operation. From water as a key driver across economies and policy making to the recognition of water and sanitation as a human right,” explains the UN chief.

The conference is co-facilitated by Tajikistan and the Netherlands that pointed to water as the defining issue of our time.

King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, says the driving force of nature is under threat.

“Leonardo da Vinci was absolutely right when he said that water was the driving force of nature. The driving force is now under threat. We face a future with too much or too little water or water supplies that are too polluted. Research commissioned by the UN has shown that almost half of the world’s population will suffer severe water stress by 2030. Not just stress, but severe stress. And the worst affected will be those who are already vulnerable. And let’s not forget that 2030 is only seven years away. The Sustainable Development Goals report 2022 painted an alarming picture in almost all areas. In the words of that report, interlinked crises are putting the agenda for sustainable development in grave danger, along with humanity’s very own survival,” says Willem-Alexander.

The event that comes as countries like South Africa and so many others find themselves in the grips of water stress, from climate change and changing ecosystems to poor water management, failing water infrastructure and an ever-expanding population, which has increased demand for water, all exacerbated by the power crisis which directly impacts water supply operations around the country. As the push comes now for governments to develop and implement plans to ensure equitable water access for all while also ensuring its sustainability for future generations to come.


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