Countries should work together to jointly manage water: Guterres
New York: As the historic United Nations Water Conference commenced today – the first in nearly 50 years – the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for “game-changing” commitments on water which he described as the “world’s most important resource”. Guterres urged the Conference to bring the Water Action Agenda to life.
“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. And 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,” Guterres said.
The three-day event – co-hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Tajikistan – falls at the halfway point for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include the promise of ensuring all people have access to safe water and sanitation by 2030.
Guterres identified the following four key areas to accelerate results and change the present situation:
- Closing the water management gap. Governments must develop and implement plans that ensure equitable water access for all people while conserving this precious resource. Countries should work together across borders to jointly manage water and all Member States should join and implement the United Nations Water Convention.
- Massively investing in water and sanitation systems. The proposed SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Stimulus and reforms to the global financial architecture aim to increase investment in sustainable development. International financial institutions should develop creative ways to extend financing and accelerate the reallocation of Special Drawing Rights. And Multilateral Development Banks should continue expanding their portfolios on water and sanitation to support countries in desperate need.
- Focusing on resilience since this twenty-first-century emergency cannot be managed with infrastructure from another age. This means investing in disaster-resilient pipelines, water-delivery infrastructure, and wastewater treatment plants. It means new ways to recycle and conserve water. It means climate and biodiversity-smart food systems that reduce methane emissions and water use. It means investing in a new global information system to forecast water needs in real-time. It means covering every person in the world with early warning systems against hazardous climate or weather events. And it means exploring new public-private partnerships across our work.
- Addressing climate change. Climate action and a sustainable water future are two sides of the same coin. No efforts should be spared to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and deliver climate justice to developing countries.
Guterres mentioned that he had proposed to the G20 [Group of 20] a Climate Solidarity Pact in which all big emitters make extra efforts to cut emissions, and wealthier countries mobilize financial and technical resources to support emerging economies. He said earlier this week, he presented a plan to supercharge efforts to achieve this Climate Solidarity Pact through an all-hands-on-deck Acceleration Agenda towards reducing emissions.
“We don’t have a moment to lose,” Guterres said, and added, “This is more than a conference on water. It is a conference on today’s world seen from the perspective of its most important resource”.
Meanwhile, at the Conference, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called on all nations to radically accelerate action to make water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) a reality for all.
They noted that the numbers are staggering – around the world, 2 billion people lack safe drinking water and 3.6 billion people – almost half the world’s population – use sanitation services that leave human waste untreated. Millions of children and families do not have adequate WASH services, including soap to wash their hands. The consequences can often be deadly. Each year at least 1.4 million people – many of them children – die from preventable causes linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation. Right now, for example, cholera is spreading in countries that have not had outbreaks in decades. Half of all healthcare facilities – where proper hygiene practices are especially critical – lack water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizing solutions.
They said the social and economic consequences of inadequate water and sanitation services are also devastating. Without these critical services, people fall ill, children miss out on learning – especially girls – and entire communities can be displaced by water scarcity. At the same time, the benefits of access to safe water and sanitation, for individuals and societies alike, are beyond measure. These services are key to healthy development in children and for sustaining their well-being as adults. They also offer a pathway to broader social and economic progress by supporting community health and productivity.
“All of us have the right to safe water, proper sanitation and hygiene, yet so many go without,” they said, adding that collectively, the world needs to at least quadruple the current rates of progress in order to achieve universal access to safely managed WASH services by 2030. “
Progress needs to be even faster in fragile contexts and the poorest countries, to protect people’s health and futures. Fortunately, we have viable solutions and a historic opportunity to turn them into action,” the said.
Both WHO and UNICEF urged governments to take the following actions with support from UN agencies, multilateral partners, the private sector and civil society organizations:
Government leadership to drive change
- Develop a plan for increasing political commitment to safely managed drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, including outreach to leaders at all levels of government and engaging with civil society groups;
- Develop a strategy for strengthening governance and institutions required to deliver these services, such as by establishing autonomous regulatory agencies that enforce health-based standards and regularly publish findings.
Funding and financing
- Develop clear policy objectives to guide funding and financing decisions for WASH;
- Develop costed funding and financing strategies that take into account the needs of different regions and population groups;
- Increase public spending on WASH to recognize its value as a public good; and
- Encourage providers to improve performance to satisfy users and recover costs, for example by reducing interruptions of service, water losses, and improving tariff structures and efficiency of collection.
Invest in people and institutions
- Develop a plan for building a stronger, more diverse, and gender-balanced workforce with stronger skills in the WASH sector;
- Build robust and competent institutions and a capable and motivated workforce; and
- Support the growth of professionalized service delivery, particularly in small and rural systems, by providing capacity development for underpaid and inadequately trained staff.
Data and evidence for decision-making
- Support the institutionalization of data collection and monitoring within national systems;
- Use consistent methodologies for data collection and monitoring; and
- Transparently share and use information collected to inform decision-making processes.
Encourage WASH innovation and experimentation
- Develop supportive government policies and regulations that encourage WASH innovation and experimentation; and
- Foster collaboration between government, civil society groups, and private sector actors to develop and implement new solutions.
“Investments and decisive action in water, sanitation and hygiene can be transformative. The key to unlocking universal WASH access is right there – now we just have to seize it,” they said.
– global bihari bureau