Connecting Waterpeople
Premium content

UN 2023 Water Conference: coming together to drive water action

Credit: UN/GMB Akash
Credit: UN/GMB Akash

This week the United Nations hosts the 2023 Water Conference, “the most important water event in a generation”, a unique opportunity to accelerate action for water and achieve not only Sustainable Development Goal 6, but the 2030 Agenda as a whole.

As we approached the Conference, we asked some experts and organisations around the world about their expectations for this landmark event and the opportunities they think it can offer to advance progress towards internationally agreed water-related goals and targets.

This week the United Nations hosts the 2023 Water Conference, “the most important water event in a generation”

Some of the highlights from those messages are calls for:

  • More investment in water – private and public – and the enabling conditions for those investments to succeed.
  • Recognising the true value of water to economic growth, to improve water stewardship in major productive sectors with high water use (agriculture, energy, manufacturing, mining, etc.).
  • Committing to tackling corruption in water and sanitation, ensuring transparency, accountability, and inclusive participation.
  • A multisectoral approach built on water security, calling on global leaders to put the necessary policies and financing in place.
  • Taking the concept of water justice seriously, even if it means having to sacrifice something in order that others have a little bit more water.
  • Research and innovation need to be valued, but not only that; they must be mainstreamed into the Water Action Agenda.
Credit: UN/Sebastian Rich
Credit: UN/Sebastian Rich

Here are their messages ahead of the Conference:

Dr Rich Thorsten, Chief Insights Officer,

This year’s United Nations Water Conference marks the first major global gathering of world leaders to take action on water and sanitation in five decades. The world is nowhere close to meeting its SDG6 goals for universal safely-managed water and sanitation services by 2030. Billions of people suffer every day from poor WASH services, especially in the face of pandemics, climate change, and other calamities.

Our leaders must recommit to ensure everyone can access the human right to safe, affordable water and sanitation and protect our water resources for future generations. Achieving this noble objective can only occur with significantly more public funding, global development assistance, and private finance. We believe leaders should make and act upon tangible goals in these areas, along with creating the enabling conditions for public and private investment to grow and succeed.  

Catarina Fonseca, Economist. Associate IRC. Pulsing Tide Founder

We are only 7 years away from 2030 (the Sustainable Development Goals target date) and the financial gap for water security and sustainable sanitation keeps growing. I expect that the UN 2023 Water Conference brings to the attention of World leaders two related aspects:

The first is the urgency to address water security. The data from the past years is scary: climate impacts, largely driven by water-related hazards, can cost billions to countries. Unpredictable floods and droughts aggravate displacement, migration and food insecurity; they inflict costly damage to infrastructure; and devastate livelihoods, quality of life, and biodiversityultimately undermining economic growth and human security. This is not limited to poorer countries.

The second it’s that we need to address the financial problem beyond the 3Ts: taxes, tariffs and transfers. It has not been enough; these sources provide only peace-meal finance solutions. Recognising the true value of water to economic growth should lead to improved water stewardship in major productive sectors with high water use, such as agriculture, energy, manufacturing, mining and others. This calls for appropriate regulations and incentives to ensure compliance. It also requires dedicated budget allocations for water in economic transformational sectors in addition to current allocations to water ministries for social services.

Credit: UN/Roger Lemoyne
Credit: UN/Roger Lemoyne

Barbara Schreiner, Executive Director, Water Integrity Network

Without water and sanitation, sustainable development is impossible. We are now behind on achieving our goals and business as usual in the water and sanitation sectors is no longer an option. Allowing failures in integrity and widespread corruption to hamper progress on SDG 6 is no longer an option.

As we head to New York, we at the Water Integrity Network, call on governments, funding agencies, civil society and the private sector to commit to tackling corruption in water and sanitation. Leave out the empty promises and ensure Transparency, Accountability, and Inclusive Participation are front and centre in the Water Action Agenda.

Kelly Parsons, CEO, WaterAid America

Many of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals — from eradicating hunger and poverty to improving global health and climate resilience — require a multi-sectoral approach built on water security. Despite being essential for sustainable development, two billion people lack safely managed drinking water, 3.6 billion people lack safely managed sanitation, and 2.3 billion people do not have access to basic hygiene facilities. During the U.N. Water Conference, we call on global leaders to put the necessary policies and financing in place to achieve clean water, sanitation, and hygiene resources for all.

Joyeeta Gupta, Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South at the University of Amsterdam, and IHE Delft Institute for Water Education

For me, it would be a success if people don’t just bandy the word justice in New York, but they actually mean something by it. And actually understand what it means for those of us who live with taps with 24-hour water: that we may have to sacrifice something in order that others have a little bit more water.

Credit: UN/Diego Ibarra Sánchez
Credit: UN/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

International Water Management Institute

It is only too clear that business as usual cannot address intensifying local and regional water emergencies. Our ambitions need to be far higher, aimed at using mission-driven partnerships to deliver water and human security. But to achieve this, it is not enough that research and innovation are merely valued; they must be mainstreamed into the Water Action Agenda, at the conference and beyond. In short, we need to transform how water systems are managed if we are to build resilience in the face of climate impacts.

The International Water Management Institute’s delegation to the UNWC hopes to influence the creation of ambitious, action-oriented, concrete commitments within the UN Water Action Agenda by advocating for the eight mission-driven outcomes of the Transformative Futures for Water Security (TFWS) initiative, formed through a series of multi-stakeholder dialogues across the Global South. The TFWS missions reflect high-ambition, transformative targets for inclusive, science-based action on water security that seeks to accelerate UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and water security for all. 

As the world comes together to discuss the way forward on water action, a very strong message coming across is that we are in this together, the global water crisis is not just something we read about, but we are spared from it if we live in a wealthy country. And it is certainly not something that is only relevant to the water sector, but all sectors of the economy. In this regard, the UN World Water Development Report 2023, launched today, emphasises the role of partnerships and cooperation to bring together the pieces of a complex puzzle that includes safeguarding water, food and energy security and providing water services to all. Supporting human health and livelihoods, climate resilience, and sustaining ecosystems and the services they provide, are also part of the same puzzle.

Partnerships must include those with a common objective, such as supplying water and sanitation to local communities, as well as actors with different and potentially competing water-related objectives, and actors from outside the water domain, but where water plays a determining role.

The Global Commission on the Economics of Water also stresses this point: we can only fix the water crisis collectively. It has released a report with a review of their findings, The What, Why and How of the World Water Crisis, as well as Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action, highlighting that water must be recognized as a global common good, and as such, global cooperation is essential to success in managing water, just as it is for a successful international response to climate change. The Commission is working on showing the way towards a new economics of water that helps reduce water waste, improve water efficiency and provide opportunities for greater water equity.