The milestone event, organized by the UN General Assembly, took place soon after a report showed that the world is not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 about clean water and sanitation.
“It is a moral failure that we live in world with such a high level of technical success but where we still allow so many to live without access to clean drinking water or ability to wash their hands,” said the President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Volkan Bozkir, as he opened the UN High-Level Meeting on Water on 18 March.
In addition to this moral obligation, the world also has much to gain from focusing on improved water management and increased access to water and sanitation. This was emphasized by SIWI’s Executive Director Torgny Holmgren in his address to the High-Level Meeting. “Water-centred solutions will limit the impact of climate change, improve food security, and make ecosystems more resilient. Now is the time to scale them up and accelerate action,”Holmgren said.
Here are some other key take-aways from the High-Level Meeting:
The essential role of WASH in combatting Covid-19
There is growing concern that the Covid-19 crisis will slow down progress on SDG 6, but many countries and civil society organizations stressed the essential role that water, sanitation, and hygiene play in the protection against, and recovery from, pandemics and infectious diseases. To begin to course-correct, it was widely acknowledged that social and economic recovery from the current pandemic must accelerate action to secure universal access to water and to do so while leaving no one behind in order to build a resilient future through water. This is echoed in SIWI’s recommendations on the water and sanitation response to Covid-19.
The need for a holistic approach to water and development
Speakers highlighted water’s link to all three dimensions of sustainability and the way it underpins the entire 2030 Agenda. Accelerated action on water is needed not just to reach SDG 6, but also other goals on, for example, food, energy, health, and poverty reduction. To this end, a more holistic approach to water is needed. We can no longer treat water, sanitation, and hygiene separately from water resource management, but must deal with them in an integrated manner, and at the same time engage with other sectors.
New ways of working with water management
Many countries took the opportunity to highlight actions they are taking to improve water governance, nationally or internationally. For example, India highlighted the establishment of a water ministry in 2019 and its sanitation campaign, the world’s largest of its sort. Malta shared its experiences of using reclaimed water for agriculture, saving its scarce groundwater resources for other purposes. Australia discussed how it is working together with Vietnam and the World Bank to show how we can grow our cities around natural ecosystems such as wetlands to promote climate adaptation. As the world is facing a multitude of challenges – not just the Covid-19 pandemic, but also climate change and biodiversity loss – it becomes even more important to improve water governance and make sure that we manage our water resources in a sustainable way that improves the situation for both current and future generations. As SIWI’s Executive Director Torgny Holmgren expressed it: “We all know that we are pressed for time. The global temperature is rising, hunger is growing, and many ecosystems are on the brink of collapse. Where do we even begin in order to tackle these systemic and interlinked challenges? The answer is: start with water.”