UN 2023 Water Conference: Day 2 ends with dialogue on ‘water for sustainable development’

‘Make love not war, make sustainable development not war’ echoes in General Debate session; momentum grows with potentially game-changing commitments

By Zumbish
Published: Saturday 25 March 2023
UN 2023 Water Conference: Day 2 ends with dialogue on ‘water for sustainable development’
Young water advocates and experts from around the world pose for a group picture in front of the Water Tunnel at UN HQ. Photo: @UNYouthEnvoy / Twitter Young water advocates and experts from around the world pose for a group picture in front of the Water Tunnel at UN HQ. Photo: @UNYouthEnvoy / Twitter

The penultimate day of the 2023 United Nations Water Conference being held in New York City ended with a dialogue on ‘water for sustainable development’ on March 23, 2023.

The third plenary on Day 2 of the meet started in continuation of the session ‘General Debate’ that the event’s Day 1 had concluded with.

It focused on a midterm comprehensive review of implementation of the objectives of the International Decade for Action—Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028.

Water for Sustainable Development is among the five key multi-stakeholder interactive dialogues the three-day conference taking place in New York City features. 

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Union minister of Jal Shakti, who represented India at the conference said the country’s commitment to International Decade of Action for Water for Sustainable Development is unwavering.

“It (India) has committed investments of over $240 billion in the water sector and is implementing the largest dam rehabilitation programme in the world as well as efforts to restore groundwater level,” Shekhawat said at the plenary.

He highlighted that at the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the concept of LiFE or Lifestyle for Environment.

Water is at the heart of Mission LiFE, a concept which aims to encourage people to pick pro-planet sustainable choices in their daily lives, to live sustainably and reduce humanity’s environmental footprint, Shekhawat noted.

Nik Nazmi bin Nik Ahmad, Malaysia’s minister of natural resources, environment and climate change of Malaysia stated that the world needed to acknowledge the climate crisis as a ‘water crisis’:

Climate change aggravates and widens the existing development gap. Water is central to addressing this issue. We need a framework for resilience and it has to start with water while climate environment and development merge. The world needs to shift how development is approached.

He added that every development plan must consider the water element and its impacts. “We cannot afford to forego our environment for the sake of growth neither can actions be made a lesser priority compared to climate change and vice versa,” Ahmad said.

The Malaysian minister called for the establishment of a UN agency for water to meet the sustainable development goal of providing safe and affordable drinking water to all by 2030.  

An eventful day?

Delegates had pinned their hopes on Day 2 after countries acknowledged the water crisis facing the planet and humanity. The penultimate day saw two plenary sessions: 3 and 4; two interactive dialogues; two special events and scores of side events. 

The plenary sessions witnessed statements from members states and focus on action echoed throughout the day’s sessions.

Many speakers highlighted the importance of inclusive processes, integration of local and indigenous knowledge and practices, and water’s role in achieving the entire sustainable development agenda. “Integrating these approaches will ensure that the Water Action Agenda leaves no one behind,” according to the UN.

Larzolo Barbelli, Romania’s representative, held a rubik cube and spoke about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “With the SDGs, with your life let’s put together the pieces of your life rubik cube in place and we will be better.”

The Romanian representative also made a pun on the 1960s anti-war slogan of ‘Make love, not war’. “Make sustainable development but not war for better life but don’t forget love,” Barbelli said.

Day 2 also saw several potentially game-changing commitments that could equip countries with data on the state of their water resources.

For instance, African Heads of State lead from front to announce ‘presidential compacts’ on water and sanitation.

In another significant development, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) came together to announce a worldwide network of water analysis laboratories and a tool to foster collective national level action to improve coordination on water management.

“The IAEA enjoys an excellent collaboration with FAO in food security. In New York, I agreed with FAO Director-General (QU Dongyu) to strengthen our already excellent work together, through our Joint Center, to harness the benefits of nuclear for sustainable agriculture and food production worldwide,” Rafael Grossi, the IAEA director-general said on the sidelines of the Conference.

Several other commitments surrounding the Water Action Agenda and the event’s emphasis on all countries to achieve the SDGs by 2030 were also announced.

A commitment to boost efficiency of water use for more sustainable agriculture practices was also made.

Policy and innovation

Lifeng Li, director of Land and Water Division at FAO, highlighted that water accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals. Agriculture could be a dealmaker in dealing with the global water crisis against being a dealbreaker, Li added. 

“We strongly believe that agriculture can contribute to a more water and food secure world in the future … if we first look at efficiency … and second, the agriculture sector should look at how to re-use and recycle water. For instance, many countries and especially in their urban areas, are making strides to re-use their wastewater, after it has been treated, for agriculture,” Li said.

He stated that FAO had submitted seven commitments to the UN Water Conference, dealing both with policy as well as innovation.

Li highlighted the National Water Roadmaps towards the 2030 Agenda, a tool to foster collective action at national level to improve cross sectorial coordination on water management and governance in support of the SDGs.

The water conference, formally known as the 2023 Conference for the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation (2018-2028), aims to raise awareness on the global water crisis and decide on concerted action to achieve the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets.

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