UN 2023 Water Conference carries new engagements towards realizing SDG6 and future avenues for a decade of action

With the UN Water conference creating dialogues for this critical decade of sustainability action, the ISC speaks with two members of the Expert Group - Shreya Chakraborty and Christophe Cudennec - who drafted the ISC’s policy brief for the conference.

This blog is part of the ISC UN 2023 Water Conference Blog Series.

The world is currently not on track to realize the ambitions of SDG 6 which seeks to enable access to drinking water and sanitation for all. In 2020, around 1 in 4 people lacked access to safe drinking water in their homes and nearly half the world’s population lacked sanitation (WHO). Halfway through the Water Action Decade, with multiple emerging crises, what can we expect to achieve from this goal as part of the 2030 Agenda? Shreya Chakraborty, a researcher on Climate Change Policy and Adaptation at the International Water Management Institute, New Delhi and Christophe Cudennec, Secretary-General of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences share their views on this critical issue.  

SDG 6 is far from achieved. Which levers do we need to act on to accelerate progress? What could future discussions, at the UN Water Conference and beyond, unlock?  

As the latest ISC policy brief shows, water is as much a natural as a political, economic, and social issue. It can be a blessing and a terrible constraint. Science is indispensable for generating knowledge to address the complex interplay of natural and human factors that still hinder progress in resolving current water challenges. This requires a more systematic dialogue between policymakers and scientists on evidence-based policy options to support tangible action and anticipate future water-related risks. Shreya Chakraborty suggests narrowing down our scope and adapting global solutions to local problems.  

“After all the discussions around water that emerged in COPs and other conferences, I feel we are going in circles. We are always looking for these global solutions to essentially very local problems. We should actually start focusing on the local scale, and contextualizing some of the problems, envision something more people-centric, where science is being done for a purpose beyond its publication value.” 

Shreya Chakraborty

More integrated water resource management approaches are among the recommendations made for the Water Action Decade. Shreya Chakraborty’s advice is to “decolonize our science” and to take water issues and management as a trans-sectorial issue that must include all stakeholders. 

“There is still a lot of disciplinary arrogance which can take over the sciences. We should break those boundaries of conversation within and beyond the sciences. We must elevate farmers, give them a voice and try to understand from people how they envision future scenarios. Regarding health and migration, we should try to look at the problem in a more complex way rather than within a single causality. For example, immigrants will never tell you “I migrated because of climate change”, the entire gamut of identity, obstacles, opportunity, and history influence their choices. Science appears to push for very definitive, all-encompassing solutions to problems. It’s a tendency that we can overcome by doing good science.”  

Shreya Chakraborty

Read the Policy Brief

UN 2023 Water Conference: ISC Policy Brief

This policy brief of the International Science Council (ISC) for the UN 2023 Water Conference highlights the importance of science and the importance of actionable knowledge in responding to current global water crises as well as emerging and future challenges.

Halfway through the Water Action Decade, there is a need to support tangible action and anticipate future water-related risks 

The ISC policy brief finds that some persistent water problems have known solutions. Taking the example of wastewater and water borne diseases, science understands what pollutant from soils it contains, and how to filtrate it properly. Safe and simple technologies exist to ensure adequate water supply and sanitation, yet their implementation in many parts of the world is still lacking. While most current water problems can be addressed through applying existing knowledge, there is also a need for additional research to fill knowledge gaps as well as anticipating future water risks. Christophe Cudennec thinks SDG 6 and its indicators should be followed up and adapted locally.  

“It is difficult for each country to understand the goals’ definition and find the resources to fill in the indicators and report back to the whole mechanism, which pulls all decision-makers back when it comes to prioritizing concrete actions. That heterogeneity is part of the problem. Downscaling the agenda to different countries and providing resources to local priorities has been difficult. The acceleration framework works on that and is partially efficient.” 

Christophe Cudennec

There are a number of rapid changes emerging for future water scenarios.  According to the ISC policy brief, massive urbanization is one of them, bringing increasing vulnerability to flooding to urban areas. With over half of humankind living in cities and urbanization continuing at unprecedented rates, new ways need to be found for coping with the associated water challenges that are increasingly affecting urban areas worldwide and across all income levels. New concepts and innovation such as the “spongy city” to absorb the excess of water with vegetation and new technologies must be streamlined. Issues of migration due to drought or floods are growing intensively and are in need of response, by investing in vulnerable territories and building relevant infrastructures.  

According to the authors of the ISC’s policy brief, the environment has a great capacity for recovery, but solely relying on its resilience will inevitably lead to irreversible damage. Pollution should be addressed at a larger scale, and the world economy needs to accelerate its decarbonization. Quantifying water implications of a shifting water-energy-food nexus is but one issue that needs anticipative research to assess and avert future water risks. Low-cost, low-tech solutions to harvest fog and rainwater, including drawing on time-tested indigenous and traditional knowledge is essential. The application of circular-economy-principles to water is also crucial, including reuse of wastewater, water recycling, zero-discharge concepts, to name a few.

“Scientists should be more proactive when it comes to translating knowledge into solutions that are actionable by the ultimate end-users and decision-makers. But the latter should be open to receive them, and be available to co-design them to assure their efficiency. It is really a matter of systematic dialogue between engaged scientists and decision-makers.”  

Christophe Cudennec

Find out more

Drawing on its broad-based global membership, the ISC stands ready to provide policy-makers at the global and national level with the required independent and evidence-based guidance, including anticipative research addressing future water risks. 

Discover how the ISC is involved in the UN Water Conference, an international conference fostering and maintaining a dialogue to unite the world for water, leading to the adoption of the Water Action Agenda.

The Conference will take place between 22 – 24 March at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Image : Anton Ivanchenko – Unsplash

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