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UN Water Conference 2023, First Such Conference to be held in 46 Years

UN Water Conference: The UN Water Conference is a global event organized by the United Nations to bring together stakeholders from different sectors to discuss water-related issues, share knowledge, and commit to actions that promote water security. UN 2023 Water Conference is also important for UPSC Prelims 2023 and UPSC Mains Exam (GS Paper 2- Various International Organizations and International Events involving and affecting India; GS Paper 3- Climate Change and associated issues.)

UN Water Conference in News

Recently, the UN water conference 2023 was held after 46 years. The last UN Water Conference was organized in 1977. In its ‘Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028’ Report, UN recognised the urgent need for action given that we are not on track to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for water- “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

Background of UN Water Conference

Fragmentation is common in the water sector as the problems associated with water are typically local. Local solutions are required to tackle issues such as water pollution in a specific lake or frequent flooding in a particular area. Consequently, there is a fundamental challenge in mobilizing the world to address local problems.

  • The groundbreaking UN Water Conference held in 1977 addressed this issue by creating the first global ‘Action Plan’.
  • This plan recognized the right of all people, regardless of their developmental stage, social or economic status, to have access to safe drinking water of adequate quality to meet their basic needs.
  • This declaration led to a few decades of concerted global efforts and funding to reduce the population without access to safe drinking water.

UN 2023 Water Conference

The UN 2023 Water Conference, co-hosted by Tajikistan and the Netherlands, marks a significant moment in addressing global water issues as it is the first such conference in a generation.

  • Mandate: The conference aims to mobilize Member States, the UN system, and stakeholders to take action and implement successful solutions on a global scale.
    • The conference seeks to promote voluntary commitments to the Water Action Agenda by utilizing the Programme as a catalyst for action.
  • Date and venue: 22-24 March 2023, New York, UN Headquarters
  • UN Water 2023 Theme: Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Decade for Action, “Water for Sustainable Development”, 2018–2028
  • Key objective: Support to achieve the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  • Presidents of the Conference: Governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands
  • Secretary-General of the Conference: Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations

UN 2023 Water Conference Principles

The UN 2023 Water Conference and its preparatory process was organised based on the following three principles:

  • Inclusive: The participatory, collaborative and inclusive approach in UN Water Conference would help to ensure strengthening capacity at all levels: individual, informal and institutional. The conference was inclusive both in terms of-
    • The Conference process (ensure vertical and horizontal inclusiveness) and
    • The results (leaving no-one behind).
  • Action-oriented: the Conference aims to lead to concrete results through concrete actions and plans on the ground
  • Cross-sectoral: The Conference should mobilise all other sectors to improve the way they manage and utilize water resources.
    • These sectors need to bring their plans and actions to the Conference.

Associated Water Issues in India

Providing services to populations that are currently underserved is generally not a contentious issue, and the main challenge is securing the necessary funding for it. In India, initiatives like the Swachh Bharat Mission and the Jal Jeevan Mission are already in place to address this challenge. However, improving access to water and sanitation does not necessarily guarantee sustained access to these resources.

  • Numerous drinking water projects have failed in the past due to issues like over-extraction of groundwater or contamination of water sources, leaving communities once again without access to water.
  • The excessive pumping of groundwater is mainly attributed to agricultural use, particularly in heavily irrigated areas such as Punjab.
    • According to a 2021 report by the CAG, groundwater extraction in India rose from 58% to 63% between 2004 and 2017.
    • Climate change has made the situation worse by causing irregular rainfall patterns that reduce the recharge potential
  • The remaining SDG targets are focused on achieving sustainable agriculture, industry, and natural ecosystems, which are more difficult to accomplish as they involve making difficult political decisions and strengthening democracy, among other things.

India at UN Water Conference 2023

During the conference, India made two significant commitments: investing $240 billion in the water sector and taking measures to restore the groundwater level.

  • India pledged $50 billion to enhance rural drinking water services through the Jal Jeevan Mission.
  • The most viable solution to excessive groundwater exploitation is to reduce the amount of pumping, but this would necessitate policy changes that require cooperation between multiple agencies and ministries.
    • Consequently, the water problem is no longer solely about ensuring access to water.

UN 2023 Water Conference Outcomes

The main result of the conference was the creation of the International Water Action Agenda, to which businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, and non-governmental organizations made more than 670 commitments aimed at resolving water security issues.

  • Over 164 governments and 75 multilateral organizations pledged their support.
  • Although the commitments are voluntary and not legally binding, they are anticipated to inspire collective political will to tackle numerous water-related challenges.

Way Forward

In terms of technology, in addition to advancements in wastewater treatment, there were numerous proposals for incubation platforms aimed at water management. There are already numerous knowledge-sharing solutions available, and we must focus on expediting cross-learning.

  • One prominent tool in this regard is the W12+ Blueprint, a platform established by UNESCO that features city profiles and case studies of programs, technologies, and policies addressing common water security challenges.
  • The ‘Making Rights Real’ initiative aims to assist marginalized communities and women in comprehending how to exercise their rights.
  • Similarly, the ‘Water for Women Fund’ provides mechanisms for women to achieve more effective and sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene outcomes.
  • However, whether these commitments will be legally binding through the COP process remains to be seen.

UN World Water Development Report 2022

UN World Water Development Report 2022

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What is the UN Water Conference?

The UN Water Conference is a global event organized by the United Nations to bring together stakeholders from different sectors to discuss water-related issues, share knowledge, and commit to actions that promote water security.

How often is the UN Water Conference held?

The UN Water Conference was held for the first time in 46 years in 2023, after the last conference was held in 1977.

Who attends the UN Water Conference?

The conference is attended by governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, private sector actors, academics, and other stakeholders with an interest in water issues.

What is the purpose of the UN Water Conference?

The primary purpose of the conference is to mobilize stakeholders to take action to address water-related challenges and to promote sustainable and equitable water management practices.

What are some of the key issues discussed at the UN Water Conference?

Some of the key issues discussed at the conference include water scarcity, water pollution, climate change, access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration in addressing water-related challenges.

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