In September 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, a set of global targets to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all human beings as part of a new Sustainable Development Agenda to be achieved by 2030.
One of the goals, number 6, focuses on “ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” However, this goal goes beyond the goal itself. Access to water and sanitation reduces the vulnerability of minority groups (SDG1, SDG3, SDG4, SDG5, SDG10), is key to agricultural productivity (SDG2), and is related to energy production through the water-energy nexus (SDG7). The water sector also contributes to increased productivity and sustainable economic growth in cities (SDG8, SDG9, SDG11 and SDG12), is fundamental in the action against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems (SDG13, SDG14 and SDG15) and, unfortunately, is a trigger for conflict (SDG16). This connection between water and all the goals makes its management a key aim to promote alliances and cooperation (SGD17).
The main conclusion of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 was that "conflict and climate change were important contributing factors leading to growing number of people facing hunger and forced displacement, as well as curtailing progress towards universal access to basic water and sanitation services.” In view of this situation, and considering that water is a key resource for sustainable economic, social and environmental development, the water sector faces great challenges.
Water management must be seen as a public good. Its influence must go beyond the limits of who is responsible for its management
Public and private sectors joining forces
Water management must be seen as a public good. Its influence must go beyond the limits of who is responsible for its management, ensuring both public and private sectors guarantee access to public services for all, leaving aside the rivalry that sometimes seems to exist. The sector must increase its knowledge about the population’s characteristics where the various types of water management are in place.
Water price regulation and generation of economies of scale
There is a need to design incentives both at the tariff level and in the design of the tariff, so that it works as both a financial instrument for cost recovery and an economic incentive for water security. In other words, the price consumers pay for water services must strike the right balance between the affordability of these services and the need to recover their cost to guarantee the investments needed to build, maintain and renew the infrastructure.
Ensure water security in the face of climate change
Global warming causes water vulnerability which, together with demographic pressure, threatens water management. Whether climate change exasperates drought or increased flooding, it is necessary to develop and integrate climate change policies with sustainable development and water management, in order to understand existing water resources, predict its usage and future needs.
Giving water significance in the circular economy
Wastewater should be recognised as a valuable resource, and its harnessing should be one of the main objectives to be achieved. The transition of the water sector to a more circular economy model is of vital importance for water security. This requires defining strategies, plans and programmes, as well as the strengthening of control measures that allow for the development of good practices to recover this precious resource.
Water is, at the same time, a limiting factor and an opportunity for development
Making the most of new technologies
Adopting new technologies will aid in the sustainable growth of the sector and transform cities into Smart Cities. However, it is necessary to identify new opportunities, the risks involved and develop the correct business models, supported by a legal framework, investment and training of professionals in the field of digitalization.
Enhancing civil society involvement
Civil society must become more dynamic in its care for water. To this end, not only must the population be more informed, it must also be consulted and encouraged to participate in negotiations around water policies. This will increase an understanding of the limited water resources available and, in the long term, recognize and support the measures being put in place to conserve water.
Water is, at the same time, a limiting factor and an opportunity for development. To tackle the sector’s challenges, everyone, including governments, the private sector and civil society must do their part. Never have the words “Think globally, act locally” made more sense. As the Uruguayan journalist and writer, Eduardo Galeano, said: “Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world.” What will you do?