The United Nations has attached top priority to water and sanitation. Integrated water resource management is the focus of chapter 18 of Agenda 21. Water and sanitation were addressed by the Commission on Sustainable Development at its second (1994) and sixth (1998) sessions; by the United Nations General Assembly at its nineteenth Special Session to review the implementation of Agenda 21 (1997) and by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) through its Plan of Implementation. The Commission on Sustainable Development subsequently reviewed water and sanitation at its twelfth session (2004), thirteenth session (2005), at its sixteenth and twentieth sessions (2008 and 2012).
Another historic initiative by the United Nations in advancing the sustainable water agenda was the International Decade for Action “Water for life”, 2005-2015 launched on 22 March 2005, on World Water Day. The Decade aimed to promote efforts to fulfill international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015, placing special emphasis on the involvement and participation of women in these efforts. In addition, the General Assembly declared the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater, the year 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation, and the year 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.
The Millennium Development Declaration (2000) also called for the world to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water as well as the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation. It called upon the international community to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought and floods; to develop integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005; and to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition in their efforts to monitor and assess the quantity and quality of water resources.
Clearly, significant progress has been achieved. As reported by the United Nations global monitoring programme, the MDG target for safe drinking water was met in 2010, well ahead of the MDG deadline of 2015.
More specifically, over 90 percent of the world’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water; five developing regions met the drinking water target; 2.6 billion people gained access to an improved drinking water source since 1990; 96 percent of the global urban population uses improved drinking water sources, compared with 84 percent of the rural population. The least developed countries did not meet the target, but 42 percent of their current population gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990.
Progress in improving access to drinking water contributed to progress in health, poverty reduction, and other MDG targets.
Last year, within the UN, a number of bold initiatives were proposed, with the aim to create new architecture that would promote full and timely achievement of the water-related goals and objectives.
At the initiative of the UN Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank a High-level Panel on Water (HLPW) was established, with the aim to enhance efforts at improving access to water and sanitation, and their sustainable management. Among its members, the High-level Panel has Heads of State/Government of the ten UN member states, who for two years will be actively advancing efforts at financing and implementing the sustainable development goals and objectives related to water and sanitation.
At the 7th World Water Forum (Republic of Korea, April 2015) the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, proposed a new initiative to proclaim an International Decade for Action under the motto «Water for Sustainable Development». The purpose of the decade is to build up on the positive experience of the International Decade for Action «Water for Life, 2005-2015» and to create a broad platform for revitalization and strengthening, at all levels, the efforts at promoting and implementing the sustainable development goals and objectives related to water resources. The participants of the International High-Level Conference on the International Decade for Action «Water for Life», 2005-2015, which in accordance with the resolution 69/215 of the UN General Assembly was held in Dushanbe on 9 and 10 June 2015, have urged «the international community …consider the possibility of proclaiming a new International decade for action «Water for sustainable development»,.to keep the momentum gained the Water for life Decade”.
During 2015, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) completed its work and published its final report (The UNSGAB Journey) that was handed over to the Secretary-General and officially shared with the international community during UNSGAB’s final meeting 18 — 20 November 2015. The report took stock of what was accomplished, how it was achieved, and unfinished business.
But significant challenges remain. To start with, the achievements in access to improved drinking water were not matched in sanitation. The world fell short on the sanitation target, leaving 2.4 billion without access to improved sanitation facilities. More specifically, the international community missed the global MDG target for sanitation by almost 700 million people. Estimates by WHO suggests the economic cost of poor sanitation at US$260 billion per year, ranging from 1 to 6 percent of the national GDP.
Secondly, the remaining gaps between urban and rural residents, between men and women in sharing water collection burden and the continued lack of access of the poor, not only in rural but also in urban areas, to improved drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, highlight the magnitude of the social and economic policy challenges ahead in achieving the water SDG and related targets. Experience has shown that it is often more difficult to overcome social gaps and inequalities in access to basic services.
Thirdly, the world’s population is projected to expand to 9.7 billion people by 2050. By UN estimate, 90% of the increase will be in developing countries—many of them are already experiencing water stress or scarcity. In addition, developing countries in Asia and Africa will see significant urbanization, adding to growing pressure on urban infrastructure.
In addition, global water demand for the manufacturing industry is expected to increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050, with the bulk of this increase occurring in emerging economies and developing countries. Alongside will be likely an increase in water pollution, in part due to lack of wastewater treatment facilities.
Climate change will have significant impact on water supply. Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, spur migration, and spark conflict, according to the World Bank. Climate studies further suggest that the world is likely to see crucial changes in the temporal and spatial distributing of water resources. AdditionallyThe frequency and intensity of water-related disasters rise significantly with increasing greenhouse gas emissions. At risk will be the health of water basins and ecosystems.
At a more fundamental level, if the world continues on its current path we may face a 40% shortfall in water availability by 2030. Among the most vulnerable countries will be LDCs and SIDS, as well as water-scare countries.
In addition, regional challenges such as water scarcity, water—peace and security, and water-food-energy nexus, will pose challenges to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. After all, in 2015, 663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources.
Financing and capacity building
To meet the growing water demand and ensure sustainable, equitable water supply and sanitation services for all, we must invest in water infrastructure, protect water basins and ecosystems, treat wastewater, and reduce water pollution.. Estimates of water financing requirements vary, but the overall requirements are projected to exceed trillions between now and 2030 – leading to calls for scaling up investments from billions to trillions. Such financing requirements will need to be met from not only traditional public and private funds, international loads and ODA, but also innovative sources of financing, including innovative domestic sources of financing.
In addition, investment should be extended to investment in human and institutional capacity, to build up water management institutions and utilities, to strengthen knowledge and skills in integrated water resources management, water efficiency management, water basins and ecosystem protection, as well as to acquire and utilize best available sustainable water management practices, through training and partnerships.