People get water from a fire hydrant, in Caracas People get water from a fire hydrant, in Caracas 

UN organizations and experts call for human rights to water

The final day of work at the United Nations New York headquarters will produce the final document of the Water Conference, inspired by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

By Edoardo Giribaldi

After three days of discussions and dialogues, the United Nations General Assembly will be wrapping up the 2023 Water Conference with the release of the Water Action Agenda, the main outcome of the event.

The closing of the Conference comes on the day dedicated to the “Water Action Decade” theme, which focuses on implementing the goals contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Educational and cultural issue”

In his address delivered during the fourth plenary meeting of the Conference, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, highlighted the problem of water wasted in places of abundance which shows, in the words of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato si’, that it is partly “an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.”

Archbishop Caccia reiterated Pope Francis’ call “for the rational use of water, and greater responsibility and solidarity in the management of resources, applying a vision that looks beyond ourselves,” as stated in the encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti.

Water security

A global security assessment led by UN water experts released a detailed and multidimensional report on the state of water security worldwide. The document brings up alarming statistics, claiming that “the world is far from achieving clean water and sanitation for all, known as Sustainable Development Goal 6,” as the press release issued by the UN University Institute of Water Environment and Health (UNU INWEH) affirmed.

A Rohingya refugee collects water for daily consumption
A Rohingya refugee collects water for daily consumption

Dr. Charlotte MacAlister, the report's lead author and senior water security researcher at the UNU INWEH, highlighted how “without water security, countries are simply incapable of supporting freshwater ecosystems, livelihoods, and human well-being.

One of the report's main findings is how “abundant natural water availability does not necessarily ensure water security.” That’s the case of several countries situated in Africa, America, and Asia-Pacific, which present abundant freshwater reserves and yet have high rates of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) attributed deaths “due to limited WASH access, poor water quality and water having low economic value despite potentially high economic losses due to floods or droughts.”

Water scarcity

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) brought up the problem of water scarcity and, in the words of Director-General Qu Dongyu, “the lack of adequate, timely and innovative financial resources,” in the implementation of “proactive and integrated drought management.”

Participating at a special event at the Conference called “Drought-Fragility-Finance-nexus: managing drought risk and overcome conditions of fragility,” Dongyu encouraged increased participation from the private sector and a more developed global knowledge base that would make investments decision coherent with humanity’s current needs.

“We cannot end poverty and hunger unless we get ahead of the curve on droughts.”

Drought in South Africa
Drought in South Africa

“Inspire efforts worldwide”

Two other UN agencies, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), have registered Italy and Kazakhstan’s commitment to their Europe Protocol of Water and Health.

The document, as stated by the two agencies, “would not only drive national action on water, sanitation, hygiene and health in the pan-European region, but also further reinforce the exchange of experience, practical solutions and know-how.”

Its effect, however, is not limited to Europe only. “The protocol,” UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova affirmed, “can serve as a catalyst for increased action and inspire efforts worldwide.” 

Listen to the report by Edoardo Giribaldi
Low water levels at the Vinca dam in southern France
Low water levels at the Vinca dam in southern France

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24 March 2023, 15:12