Water, "the most precious common good" of humanity, must "be at the center of the global political agenda", pleaded, Friday, March 24, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) at the end of an unpublished conference on the subject for nearly half a century.
"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 in New York, Gutteres added, calling for “game-changing” efforts.
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 the private sector have been registered in this "action program" before and during the three days of this unprecedented conference. since 1977 which has welcomed some ten thousand people.
"One conference is not going to be enough"
But "about a third are likely to have a substantial impact" and less than a third have identified funding, said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute think tank. It is, however, "a good start", he told Agence France-Presse (AFP), giving the example of a project led by Germany on the management of the Niger River basin in nine African countries that 'he crosses.
"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. "Often in these types of conferences, you hear a lot of promises (…), here I have the impression that it's different," he added, describing the energy generated in the community of actors. 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."
Two billion people deprived of drinking water
In an attempt to build momentum, the conference called for the appointment of a UN special envoy for water, a recommendation 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.
In 2020, two billion people were still without safe drinking water and 3.6 billion did not have access to safely managed sanitation services, of which 494 million had to defecate in the open air, according to the latest figures compiled by the UN-Water platform.
At least two billion people use contaminated water, and live in 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. 27 years ago, "the conference was a success because delegates, representatives, companies, decided to join forces with the younger generations," Aniek Moonen said. "The future speaks to you, don't forget to listen."