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New agenda sets sail with bold action as UN Water Conference closes

A girl drinks water at school in  Goré, Chad.
© UNICEF/Frank Dejongh
A girl drinks water at school in Goré, Chad.

New agenda sets sail with bold action as UN Water Conference closes


The UN 2023 Water Conference closed on Friday with the adoption of the Water Action Agenda, a “milestone” action plan containing almost 700 commitments to protect “humanity’s most precious global common good”.

The Agenda sets out a series of action-oriented game changing commitments, from making smarter food choices to re-evaluating water as a powerful economic driver, and part of the Earth’s cultural heritage.

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Water-secure future for all

The conference, and its 2,000 participants, forged an “ambitious vision”, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.

“Your dedication to action and transformation is propelling us towards a sustainable, equitable and inclusive water-secure future for people and planet alike,” he said. “This conference demonstrated a central truth: as humanity’s most precious global common good, water unites us all, and it flows across a number of global challenges.”

From protecting the spread of disease to fighting poverty, the natural resource also flows through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a time when the world is grappling with climate change, water scarcity, and pollution.

“That’s why water needs to be at the centre of the global political agenda,” he said. “All of humanity’s hopes for the future depend, in some way, on charting a new science-based course to bring the Water Action Agenda to life.”

Doing so translates into such forward-looking actions as developing new, alternative food systems to reduce the unsustainable use of water in agriculture, while launching a new global information system to guide plans and priorities to realize the SDGs. New considerations include appointing a Special Envoy for water ahead of the SDG Summit in September, he said.

Water Action Agenda is ‘just the beginning’

Lending multiple perspectives and expertise to navigate the challenges ahead, more than 2,000 government representatives, scientists, academics, civil society groups, indigenous peoples, members of the private sector, and youth delegates attended the conference, held at UN Headquarters 22 to 24 March.

Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said Water Action Agenda commitments cover a wide range of actions, from capacity-building to data and monitoring systems, to improving the resilience of infrastructure.

This is just the beginning,” he said. “The online platform hosting the Water Action Agenda will remain open for submissions and available for all to view through the Conference website.”

Another key outcome of the conference will be a summary by the UN General Assembly President, capturing the many ideas, recommendations, and solutions to protect and support “our world’s lifeblood” that emerged during five interactive dialogues, four special events and hundreds of side events, he said.

“At the 2023 UN Water Conference, a determined global community came together to make a difference not only for the future of water but for the future of the world,” he said.

‘A page of history’

General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi said the $300 billion in pledges made to buoy the transformative Water Action Agenda has the potential of unlocking at least $1 trillion of socioeconomic and eco-system gains.

“The outcome of this conference is not a legally binding document, but it still turns the page of history,” he said, in closing remarks. “You have reconfirmed the promise to implement the human right to water and sanitation for all.”

That means reaching the millions who are not even aware of this conference, he said.

“We will keep our ears and minds open to scientific evidence as we move forward to realize the transformation discussed,” he said.

Civil society and the private sector are at the heart of this transformation and “key to our success” he said, adding that they must be part of more inclusive partnerships and solutions.

“Today, we hold the pieces of a water-secure and more peaceful world in our hands,” he said. “Together, we can launch the transformation for a water-secure world, and these gamechangers can take us there.”

‘Our common future’

The Secretary-General pledged UN support “every step of the way”, as Member States take action through the second half of the Water Action Decade.

Without water, there can be no sustainable development,” Mr. Guterres said, thanking all stakeholders. “As we leave this historic conference, let’s re-commit to our common future. Let’s take the next steps in our journey to a water-secure future for all.”

A six-year-old girl drinks water from a community hand pump in Pakistan.
A six-year-old girl drinks water from a community hand pump in Pakistan.

How can you help?

Here’s a sampling from the UN’s #WaterAction guide:

💧 Turn off those appliances, computers and other tech, when you’re not using them. Currently, 90 per cent of power generation is water intensive. Turning off devices when they are not in use means less energy needs to be produced. 

💧 Build up a head of steam over the issue. Write to elected representatives about budgets for improving water conservation at home and abroad.

💧 Create an action list. Choose and share what you are going to do to help solve the water and sanitation crisis, right here.

💧 Get informed. Explore the water and sanitation crisis, read inspirational stories from around the world, read a book from the suggested SDG Book Club list, and follow your local news on water supply issues and check out SDG 6 online or on social media at @GlobalGoalUN.

💧 Use your social media voice. Amplify messages promoting SDG 6, participate in #WorldWaterDay to generate debate and raise awareness, available here.

💧 Shop sustainably. The 10,000 litres of water used to produce a pair of jeans is the same amount the average person drinks in a decade.