On 24 March 2023, on the final day of the UN Water Conference 2023, young leaders of the water sector from Europe, Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions held a dialogue with policy-makers, highlighting the lessons learned from the Conference and the current and future role of youth leadership in strengthening sustainable water management.
While young people have raised their voices in discussions on climate change, their roles in water cooperation and international water diplomacy have received less attention. Moreover, young people often do not have access to funding for projects, and support to attend international conferences, which would enable them to actively participate, and influence policies needed to ensure resilience and sustainability.
As part of the event organisers’ (European Commission, Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and international Secretariat for Water) programmes, young people received support to attend the UN Water Conference. The final day’s event provided a key opportunity for engaging and networking and to reflect on the Conference’s strategic outcomes in the five priority areas: Water and Health, Development, Climate, Transboundary Water Management and the Water Action Decade.
On health, young people highlighted the need to recognise sanitation and hygiene as a human right and to focus on actions at local level, while emphasising the need to raise awareness about waste-water reuse in schools and rural communities. They also stressed the need to enhance the attractiveness of waste-water management as an employment sector for young people and women and the need to include these groups in urban planning and design. On development, young people stressed the need to recognise them as key initiators of solutions. Climate and water security are intrinsically linked, as recent cyclones in African and Pacific regions have increased the risk of water borne diseases. For transboundary water management, cooperation is key to sustainable peace with young people often playing the mediators between communities. The participants stressed the uneven distribution of waterbodies as a key cause of conflict and their restoration as an important factor in its resolution. On the Water Action Decade, young people recognised the need for a UN Special Envoy on Water but stressed equally the need for a youth envoy and to include young people in advisory groups as it’s called out by the #filluptheglass campaign supported by 370 youth organisations from all horizons.
While young people have raised their voices in discussions on climate change, their roles in water cooperation and international water diplomacy have received less attention
Marjeta Jager, European Commission Deputy Director-General for International Partnerships highlighted: “The EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific partnership is a leading example of how we can join forces for better results. Youth is an EU priority and young people are already the leaders. Youth voices need to be heard to solve global challenges linked to water and for a greener, fairer more peaceful planet.”
Cristelle Pratt, Assistant Secretary-General for Environment and Climate Action of the Secretariat of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) pointed out that: “Dialogue was timely and long overdue. Young people bring energy and vitality, and insights that can inform a water secure future that we need to solve the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss, as well as pollution and waste.”
Makhfirat Abdulloeva Deputy Head, International Secretariat for Water in Tajikistan stressed: “There is a severe lack of professionals in the sector, water is not attractive enough. We need to change it through adequate training, education and motivation. Access to water empowers young people and women, they become agents of change through their communities.”
The event was also joined by the Minister of Public Works and Meteorological Services of Fiji Ro Filipe Tuisawau, the Swedish State Secretary for Climate and Environment Daniel Westlen, as well as water experts from GIZ and the Pacific community. It was one of the examples that solutions need to be debated inter-generationally, bringing multisector participants to the table. It highlighted young people as the most affected but also most suited to link communities and lead the positive change needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.