UN Holds Rare Meeting to Address Global Water Crisis
The United Nations is focusing on a global crisis this week that has been neglected for a long time, despite the fact that the well-being of billions of people is at risk. The crisis is characterised by water scarcity in some regions, excessive water in others, and pollution or other issues.
Henk Ovink, the water issues special envoy for the Netherlands, co-hosting the UN Water Summit Wednesday through Friday with Tajikistan, remarked that it's the first time in 46 years that the world is coming together to address the issue of water.
He also stated that it's a once-in-a-generation opportunity and emphasised that the situation is critical. The last conference at this level was held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1997, and there is currently no global treaty or dedicated UN agency addressing the issue.
According to Ovink, we have disrupted the hydrological cycle, and he has never been more concerned. He further stated that we are extracting too much water from the ground, contaminating the remaining water, and causing an abundance of water in the atmosphere, which is adversely affecting the environment, economies, and communities through climate change.
The escalating cycle of drought and flooding across the globe is intensifying due to human-induced global warming. This has led to water scarcity in some regions and excess water in others. The United Nations has stated that 2.3 billion people live in countries facing water stress, highlighting the urgency of the situation.
In 2020, the number of people without access to safe drinking water was two billion, while 3.6 billion had no toilets at home and 2.3 billion had no way to wash their hands, creating unsanitary conditions that can lead to the spread of diseases.
These conditions fall short of the UN's sustainable development goals set in 2015, which included ensuring access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.
According to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director-general of the World Trade Organisation and co-author of a recent report that criticised the "systemic crisis" caused by decades of mismanagement of water by humans, we must develop a new economics of water that reduces water waste, improves water efficiency, and promotes greater water equity.
At the UN conference this week, governments and actors in the public and private sectors will present proposals for a water action agenda. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that the Water Summit should result in a robust Water Action Agenda that demonstrates a strong commitment to water, which is the lifeblood of our world.
The conference is expected to attract 6,500 attendees, including 20 heads of state or government, dozens of ministers, and hundreds of civil society and business representatives. The conference website has already registered hundreds of projects ahead of the conference.
The proposals submitted ahead of the UN Water Summit vary from constructing affordable toilets for millions of people globally to improving irrigation techniques in Australia and enhancing access to drinking water in Fiji. The organisers expect conference participants to make commitments, whether big or small, during the event.
According to Sulton Rahimzoda, the special envoy on water for the president of Tajikistan, every pledge made during the conference is crucial as even a small change can improve the lives of one household, one school, one village, or one city. He further added, "drop by drop, it becomes an ocean."
Ani Dasgupta, the president and CEO of the think tank World Resources Institute, believes that we need the plan to revolutionise how we manage water for the new climate reality and not just incremental progress. He added that solutions do exist, and their price is relatively affordable. Dasgupta cited a figure that said securing water for societies worldwide by 2030 would cost just over one per cent of global GDP.
Dasgupta also mentioned that the returns on investments in securing water for societies would be immense, from expanding economies to increasing farmers' crop yields to improving the lives of the impoverished and vulnerable.
Source: Agence France-Presse