UN 2023 Water Conference: Day 1 ends with debates; problem acknowledgement; funding pledges

Day 2 to be crucial as delegates seek to reconcile ambition and vision with implementation  

By Zumbish
Published: Thursday 23 March 2023

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the UN 2023 Water Conference.UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the UN 2023 Water Conference.

The first day of the United Nations 2023 Water Conference in New York City ended March 22 with a clear admission of the problems at hand and voluntary committments on part of a number of countries.

The event is the first high-level UN conference on freshwater since 1977, when stakeholders had met at Mar del Plata in Argentina.

On the first day, delegates acknowledged that 46 years was a long time between conferences, according to a note on the portal of the non-profit, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

But they added that discussions indicated progress in global cooperation despite setbacks experienced due to challenges such as the impacts of climate change and the degradation of hydrological systems and water resources.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who opened the conference, highlighted four key actions to accelerate the water agenda:

  • Closing the water management gap
  • Massively investing in water and sanitation systems
  • Focusing on water resilience
  • Addressing climate change

Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands, and Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, were elected as presidents of the conference.

The plenary saw delegates debating partnerships and investment in modernisation of water systems; sharing of technological expertise; and advancing equal rights to water and sanitation.

“Several called for the creation of a UN Special Envoy for Water and for regular high-level UN meetings on water to allow for stocktaking and drive progress,” the IISD note read.

Raúl Silvero Silvagni, Paraguay’s minister of foreign affairs, cited the example of the Rio de La Plata, the fifth-largest basin in the world. It is shared by Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

These countries signed a treaty over five decades ago in order to advance the harmonious balance of development of the water system as well as to ensure its rational use and preservation for guarantee for future.

Solidarity and cooperation between the countries as well as the legal and institutional framework has helped them deal with the most serious drought that occurred since 2019, said Silvagni.

Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s minister of water and environment, said his country, in order to ensure its commitment to water action agenda, would resolve to:

  1. Accelerate inclusive access to safely managed water and sanitation services in both rural and urban areas.
  2. Ensure availability of quality water for domestic use and productive purposes.
  3. Through transformational initiatives, with a focus on marginalised groups so that no one is left behind.

AK Abdul Momen, minister for foreign affairs, Bangladesh emphasised on integrated water management, improving water quality and achieving 100 per centage coverage for handwashing by 2030 in his country.

Water-related voluntary commitments were announced by a number of countries. For instance, Botswana undertook to improve water resource infrastructure for sustainable water supply, investment in smart water approaches and technology, promotion of reuse and protection of forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes.

Slovenia said it would accelerate actions for gender equal water governance, management of water ecosystems and upgrading of flood forecasting.

The UK announced a new initiative on access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems for health, with 18.5 million pounds in funding.

The US committed to invest up to $49 billion for climate-resilient water and sanitation infrastructure and services, and allocate $700 million to support 22 countries under its Global Water Strategy.

Vietnam said it would to develop policies for major river basins management by 2025 and indicated that all its households will have access to clean running water by 2030.

Two Interactive Dialogues were held in parallel to the plenary session. The Water for Health dialogue dealt with access to WASH systems, including the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The Water for Sustainable Development dialogue considered valuing water, the water-food-energy nexus, and sustainable economic and urban development.

A number of countries pledged funding on the first day. The second day will be crucial as delegates seek to reconcile ambition and vision with implementation, the IISD note said.

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