22 March 2018: On World Water Day, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) launched the ‘International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development’ (2018-2028). Promoting the integrated management of water resources, the Decade aims to create a platform for sharing good practices, advocacy, networking and partnership-building at all levels. It will support achievement of the water-related aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Organized by the UNGA President, the high-level launch event took place on 22 March 2018 at UN Headquarters in New York, US. World Water Day is celebrated annually on 22 March.
Delivering remarks on behalf of the UNGA President, Mahmoud Saikal, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan and UNGA Vice President, noted the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water, and underscored the centrality of water to the achievement of all the SDGs. He said the Decade of Action needs to be defined by: water and sanitation as priorities for the budgets and policies of national governments; a surge of cooperation on water management and disaster risk reduction (DRR) between different stakeholders, including the UN, governments, international financial institutions, businesses and civil society; and increased water-related investments and innovations.
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said with demand for freshwater projected to grow by more than 40% by 2050 and climate change having a growing impact, water scarcity is “an enormous concern.” He added that, by 2050, at least one in four people will live in a country where the lack of fresh water will be chronic or recurrent. He further noted that: 40% of the world’s people are affected by water scarcity; 80% of wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment; and more than 90% of disasters are water-related. More than two billion people lack access to safe water and more than 4.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation services.
The Secretary-General presented the Action Plan of the Decade for Action, which has three objectives: transforming the current silo-based approach to water supply, sanitation, water management and DRR into an integrated one to better tackle water stress, combat climate change, and enhance resilience; aligning existing water and sanitation programmes and projects with the 2030 Agenda; and generating the political will for strengthened cooperation and partnerships.
Emomali Rahmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan and Initiator of the Decade for Action, presented the report titled, ‘Making Every Drop Count: An agenda on Water Action’ on behalf of the members of the High-Level Panel on Water. Autumn Peltier, civil society representative, explained why water is sacred and noted that water should be protected by human rights.
During the ensuing plenary, the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan said, in the future, water will possibly be the key element in the relations between states and communities. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives, for the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS), stressed the need for investment in developing infrastructure for the effective management and efficient use of water. He also called for capacity building support for data collection. The Minister of Water of Ethiopia emphasized the need for international support and partnerships to address the gap in access to clean water and sanitation. The Minister of Water and Irrigation of Jordan called for advancing effective management of shared water resources.
Guyana, for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), called for increasing official development assistance (ODA), awareness, and cooperation on water issues at all levels. Supported by Palau for the Small-island Developing States (P-SIDS), she emphasized the centrality of SDG 13 on climate action to achieving SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation. Egypt, for the Group of the 77 and China (G-77/ China), called for developed countries to increase their investments in water and sanitation projects in developing countries. Paraguay, for Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDCs), said integrated approaches to water management are essential to achieving the Vienna Programme of Action for the LLDCs (VPoA) for the LLDCs.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the inclusion of water-related issues in its humanitarian efforts. Israel highlighted the importance of developing innovative technologies, explaining that it solved the issue of water scarcity by making its agricultural system rely on treated waste-water. Peru and the Netherlands spoke about water’s importance to achieving SDG 16 on peace and security through creating a conducive environment for peace. He announced the planned launch of the ‘Valuing Water’ global coalition in collaboration with the World Bank, the UN, and other water stakeholders including youth and indigenous people, on the margins of this year’s High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF). Peru spoke about the development of indicators for the implementation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) water governance principles.
Germany said it would support the strengthening of UN-Water and the creation of a dedicated space for intergovernmental discussions on the implementation of water-related goals and targets within the UN. Japan highlighted the need for investment in DRR. Australia presented the Water for Women Fund which has invested US$110 million and partnered with civil society to address the gender aspects of water-related challenges. Switzerland called for greater emphasis on water within the UN.
During a panel on the ‘Contribution of the Water Decade to the implementation of water related SDGs,’ Ali Al-Ghezawi, Minister of Water and Irrigation of Jordan, emphasized that regional cooperation on water issues is especially important for LLDCs. Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs of Netherlands, noted that UN’s approach to water is currently unorganized, and the Decade for Action should contribute to addressing this issue.
Danilo Türk, Chairman of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace and former President of the Republic of Slovenia, suggested that water specialists should be included in UN Peacekeeping operations to enable them to address the water-related aspects of civilian protection. Priscilla Achapka, Executive Director Women Environmental Programme, highlighted the need to integrate the gender-related aspects in water planning and management. Sadhguru, Founder of the Isha Foundation, stressed the need to make ecology a lucrative field for the vast number of people involved in it.
During a panel on the ‘Role of relevant stakeholders in mobilizing necessary resources for the implementation and follow-up of water related SDGs,’ Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary, said the importance of water should be accurately captured by the current efforts of reforming the UN development system. Mohamed Asim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives, spoke about the involvement of private sector, through public-private partnerships, in an ambitious series of desalination projects that are essential for providing Maldives with drinking water.
Andries Nel, Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs of South Africa, highlighted the need for strengthening the rural-urban linkage when it comes to water access and management, as well as for a citizens’ participatory approach to urban planning. Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water Partnership, underscored the important role women play in water management and called for them to participate on an equal footing with men in water programs. She added that women’s experience with water resources will be essential for water programs’ success.