(United Nations) Faced with worsening water shortages, humanity in danger must “change course” in its management of this “precious common good”, pleaded on Friday the UN Secretary-General at the end of a conference that has not been seen for nearly half a century, which has raised some hope.
Health, sanitation, hygiene, peace, development, poverty, food security or simply drinking… Water, “the most precious common good”, must “be at the center of the global political agenda”, insisted Antonio Guterres.
“All of humanity’s hopes for the future depend, in some way, on a science-based course change to bring the Water Agenda to life” shaped by the commitments made at the this conference, he added, calling for “game-changing” efforts to ensure that everyone on the planet has water.
The world is off track for the 2030 water goals, including access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all.
So “now is the time to act,” said Antonio Guterres, who on Wednesday vilified humanity’s “vampiric overconsumption” and the climate crisis it has caused.
From the construction of toilets to the restoration of 300,000 km of degraded rivers, nearly 700 commitments from NGOs, governments or companies have been recorded in this “action program” before and during the three days of this unprecedented conference since 1977 which hosted some 10,000 people.
But “about a third are likely to have a substantial impact” and less than a third have identified funding, estimates Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute think tank.
It is, however, “a good start”, he told AFP, giving the example of a project led by Germany on the management of the Niger River basin in nine countries through which it passes.
“Probably the most fragile part of the world, where you’re starting to see violent water-related conflicts between certain groups,” he noted.
But water “is a huge problem, and one conference is not going to be enough,” he acknowledged, arguing for an annual repetition of the exercise.
Even if “all is not rosy”, that “some commitments are not as strong” as hoped, “I am pleasantly surprised”, for his part told AFP Stuart Orr, from WWF.
“A lot of times at these kinds of conferences, you hear a lot of promises…this is where I feel like it’s different,” he added, describing the energy generated in the acting community of water hitherto ‘frustrated’ with the lack of attention paid to this vital resource.
“The problem isn’t going to go away, it’s going to get worse, and I think that’s why everyone is starting to think it’s time to move on.”
In an attempt to build momentum, the conference called for the appointment of a UN special envoy for water. Recommendation that Antonio Guterres will consider.
Without a dedicated UN agency or global treaty, “water has no home here at the UN,” noted Henk Ovink, Water Envoy of the Netherlands, co-hosts of the Conference with Tajikistan.
At least two billion people drink water contaminated with faeces, and 2.3 billion lack basic sanitation services. Conditions conducive to the spread of deadly diseases, cholera or dysentery.
As global warming increases droughts, UN climate experts (IPCC) also estimate that “about half the world’s population” experiences “severe” water shortages for at least part of the year.
Then in the form of a challenge, jumping back in time to 2050, a Dutch woman from the Youth Climate Movement described from the podium the “alarm signal” that this conference will have represented, when the global management of the climate water has changed to become “more sustainable, equitable and just”.
Twenty-seven years ago, “the conference was a success because delegates, representatives and companies decided to join forces with the younger generations,” Aniek Moonen said.
“The future speaks to you, don’t forget to listen.”