In advance of World Water Day 2018 and the launch of the Water Action Decade 2018–2028, the United Nations and its High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) have called for a fundamental shift in global water management.

On March 14th, the HLPW, composed of 11 Heads of State and a Special Advisor, released Making Every Drop Count: An Agenda for Water Action, which calls for a fundamental shift in the way the world manages water so that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 6 on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

How water is connected to all SDGs. Credit: UN HLPW.

“It is my deep belief that water is a matter of life and death,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres upon receiving the report on Wednesday. Gueterres also said that water-related natural disasters are occurring more frequently and becoming more and more dangerous everywhere, which means “water is indeed a matter of life and death” and “must be an absolute priority in everything we do.”

The report found that women and girls suffer disproportionately when water and sanitation are lacking, affecting health and often restricting work and education opportunities. Some 80 per cent of wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment and water-related disasters account for 90 per cent of the 1,000 most devastating natural disasters since 1990.

If not addressed, by 2030 the world could experience a 40 per cent shortfall in water availability, displacing as many as 700 million people. More than two billion people are compelled to drink unsafe water and more than 4.5 billion do not have safely managed sanitation services.

The panel, created in 2016 for an initial period of two years, is advocating for evidence-based policies and innovative approaches at the global, national and local level to make water management as well as water and sanitation services attractive for investment and more disaster-resilient.

“For Mexico, the [HLPW] represents a historical and unprecedented opportunity to promote the recognition of water as an essential transversal element and the basis for the development and welfare of all our Nations,” said President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, co-chair of the HLPW. “This multilateral initiative stands for the commitment of worldwide leaders to foster existing efforts and generate new dynamics, promoting the water and sanitation’s SDG within the 2030 agenda.”

The panel’s report sets out a three-pillared agenda to define essential activities to meet SDGs, and goal 6 in particular:

  • Foundations for action. This includes understanding water from an evidence-based decision framework, support by sound data; valuing water with a mind to sustainability, efficiency, and inclusivity to manage and deliver water resources appropriately; and managing water equitably and inclusively at all levels of governance.
  • An integrated agenda. This includes universal access to water and sanitation; resilient societies and economies to reduce disaster risk; increased water infrastructure investment; nurturing environmental water by preventing pollution and degradation; and developing sustainable cities.
  • Catalyzing change, building partnerships, and international cooperation. This includes promoting innovation; strengthening partnerships; and increasing global water cooperation.

In an open letter, the panel members concluded: “Whoever you are, whatever you do, wherever you live, we urge you get involved and contribute to meeting this great challenge: safe water and sanitation for all, and our water resources managed sustainably. Make every drop count. It’s time for action.”


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