A turning point in addressing the water crisis
April 6, 2023
I have spoken at the United Nations headquarters many times, but this recent occasion felt particularly significant to me, as it was related to my passion as a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activist. I was thrilled to participate in the historic UN 2023 Water Conference that concluded last week, and which was hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan.
Water, sanitation, and hygiene are essential for human survival and sustainable development. However access to clean water and sanitation remains a significant challenge for many communities worldwide, particularly those that are marginalized and vulnerable. The conference in New York, attended by over 6,500 participants, was a vital platform for member states, the private sector and young people to discuss progress, and find solutions to the challenges that remain.
The conference acknowledged the critical role that young people play in addressing the WASH crisis and committed to mobilizing their energy and ideas in support of WASH initiatives. Young people were acknowledged as key agents of change and were encouraged to advocate for water and sanitation rights in their communities. The conference also emphasized the importance of engaging other stakeholders, including civil society organizations, academia, and the media in addressing the crisis.
As part of my global non-profit Awareness 360's Water Action Agenda commitment, I have advocated for the need to develop water-literate leaders and enhance their capacity to become effective advocates for WASH issues. I have also championed more meaningful engagement of youth-led, grassroots organizations in the water development space, which usually tend to remain underfunded. I spoke about my personal journey of becoming a WASH advocate after tragically losing my mother to diarrhea nine years ago, and highlighted the ongoing prevalence of preventable diseases like diarrhea, cholera, and neglected tropical diseases that continue to claim millions of lives. It is imperative to invest in WASH and realize the true value of water. I also moderated the main side event of UNDP as well as the SDG Media Zone event, where speakers who were partners of UNDP shared the existing water solutions they have been successfully implementing, encompassing key dimensions such as transboundary water cooperation, gender equality, inclusivity, as well as the role of businesses, and livelihood creation. These discussions presented us with the opportunity to identify tangible solutions which could potentially be contextually tailored and scaled up.
Technology and innovation can catalyze our efforts to achieve SDG 6. Technology can be applied to optimize water distribution and management systems, as well as fecal sludge management processes.
The commitments made at UN Water Conference 2023 provide a strong foundation for future action. However, we need to note that these commitments are non-binding and it's crucial to ensure that they translate into concrete action. To achieve this, it is necessary to strengthen the accountability framework as well as to foster cross-sectoral collaborations, particularly public-private partnerships. Working in isolation and maintaining the current rate of progress is not sufficient to achieve SDG 6 by the 2030 deadline. Efforts must be made to address the root causes of the water, sanitation and hygiene crisis, including poverty, inequality, and climate change.
The major announcement regarding the appointment of a Special UN Envoy for Water by the UN Secretary-General was a significant step, but I recommend that a Special UN Youth Envoy for Water should also be appointed to address the specific needs and perspectives of young people.
The water crisis is a complex and multi-faceted challenge that requires a comprehensive and integrated approach. The UN Water Conference 2023 has provided a platform for global dialogue, cooperation, and action toward a water-secure future. The commitments made at the conference including the funding pledge by different member states and corporations, as well as the more than 700 #wateraction voluntary commitments through the Water Action Agenda, represent progress. However, the success of these commitments relies on concrete actions at the national and local levels, as well as on sustained political will and international cooperation.
The urgency of the water crisis demands a shift in how we value and manage water, including through adopting sustainable practices and technologies, and the recognition of water as a global common good.
As we look toward the future, let us seize the opportunity to turn the commitments made at the conference into tangible and transformative outcomes. Let's ensure that every person has access to safe water and sanitation, and the opportunity to live a healthy and dignified life.
Generation17 supports a group of inspiring young leaders aged 18 to 30 dedicated to innovating for humanity and mobilizing global communities. If you're between that age range, leading an organization/initiative, and interested in joining this initiative, you can apply by May 7th, 2023, to be part of the fourth cohort of Generation17 here.
To learn more about this initiative and meet the Generation17 young leaders, the visionaries, advocates and entrepreneurs building a better future, visit generation17.undp.org