UNITED NATIONS, March 22 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations on Wednesday called for game-changing action when world leaders, businesses, youth and other stakeholders gathered at the three-day UN 2023 Water Conference to address the global water crisis.
"This is more than a conference on water. It is a conference on today's world seen from the perspective of its most important resource," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his opening remarks. The conference runs through Friday.
"This conference must represent a quantum leap in the capacity of member states and the international community to recognize and act upon the vital importance of water to our world's sustainability and as a tool to foster peace and international co-operation," Guterres said.
Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being, and a declared human right. But some 2 billion people around the world still lack access to safe drinking water. More people have access to mobile phones than toilets and sanitation, with 80 percent of wastewater discharged untreated into the environment. More than 90 percent of disasters are water-related, with climate change adding to the pressure. And humanity's demand for water keeps growing, with pressure on freshwater projected to increase by more than 40 percent by 2050, according to the world body.
Despite these challenges, a breakthrough to "a water-secure planet" is still possible. But urgent action is needed now. With this at the top of their minds, world leaders, together with over 6,000 registered civil society, business leaders, young people, and experts are attending the conference to present innovative solutions and bold commitments to accelerate transformational change for water, the world body said in a press release.
"We have today a global water crisis. To put it bluntly: the three forms of water disasters have created a human disaster. Too much water takes lives, too little water hinders dignified human development, too dirty a water threatens our health and the nature we are part of," UN General Assembly President Csaba Korosi told the opening session of the conference.
"The solution is in our hands ... A cooperative water-secure future starts with political will, economic intelligence, and cultural tolerance and acceptance," he said.
"It must be both a change of mind and heart," Korosi said. "We need to be bold. We can agree on gamechangers."
"During this conference, we want to get the water wheel spinning," stated Willem-Alexander, king of the Netherlands, in his opening statement. "We won't rest until water is given the place it rightly deserves on global agendas and policy programs. We will bring all our commitments, pledges and actions together in a Water Action Agenda."
The key outcome of the UN 2023 Water Conference will be the Water Action Agenda, a collection of commitments from member states and other stakeholders that aims to present game-changing solutions to accelerate progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6, which aims at achieving safe water and adequate sanitation for all.
To date, more than 500 commitments have been registered from governments, UN agencies, business leaders and civil society, ranging from targeting open data sources and improving education around water, to scaling effective water management practices and mobilizing funds to drive action towards water, according to the United Nations.
Co-hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan, the conference is, as the United Nations puts it, "a once-in-a-generation opportunity" to advance the Water Action Agenda that seeks to deliver the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In addition to the plenary sessions, there will be five interactive dialogues: Water for Health; Water for Sustainable Development; Water for Climate, Resilience and Environment; Water for Cooperation and Water Action Decade. Four high-level special events and more than 500 side events will also be occurring during the conference.
"We need to think about how we value water. We must consider both the role and impact of water in driving sustainable economic and social development, urban development, environmental protection, and peace. A close look at the water-energy-food nexus is also critical," said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Li Junhua in his address at the opening session.