The United Nations opened its first conference on water security in almost half a century on Wednesday with a plea to governments to better manage one of humanity’s shared resources.
A quarter of the world’s population relies on unsafe drinking water while half lacks basic sanitation, the U.N. said. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters of recent disasters have been related to water.
“We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and evaporating it through global heating,” said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Ensuring access to clean drinking water and sanitation is part of the 17-point to-do list the U.N. has set for sustainable development, alongside ending hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality, and taking action on climate change.
The three-day conference beginning on Wednesday in New York is not intended to produce the kind of binding accord that emerged from climate meetings in Paris in 2015, or on nature protection in Montreal in 2022. But Guterres said it must “result in a bold Water Action Agenda that gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves.”
That agenda aims to establish voluntary commitments from countries and sector representatives, and create “political momentum.”
Guterres said governments needed plans that would “ensure equitable water access for all people while conserving this precious resource,” and work with their neighbors to manage it.
The United States quickly responded to Guterres’ call.
“I am proud to announce that the United States is committing $49 billion toward equitable, climate-resilient, water and sanitation investments at home and around the world,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.
This money would “help create jobs, prevent conflicts, safeguard public health, reduce the risk of famine and hunger, and enable us to respond to climate change and natural disasters,” she said, without giving a timeline for the investments or details on how much money would be spent where.
Scientists, economists and policy experts grouped together by the government of the Netherlands in the Global Commission on the Economics of Water has recommended phasing out some $700 billion in agricultural and water subsidies it says are environmentally damaging.
It also endorses partnerships between development finance institutions and private investors to improve water systems.
In a statement marking World Water Day Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that Canada is working to ensure clean water for those around the world, as well as at home.
“Everyone in Canada should have access to clean water,” Trudeau’s statement read. “The Government of Canada continues to work in partnership with First Nations communities to help end all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems, and to prevent more advisories moving forward by co-developing and implementing new safe drinking water legislation.”
The impacts of properly managed water ecosystems extend beyond access to clean drinking water, Trudeau said.
“There is no resource more essential to Canadians and the Canadian economy than clean water.”
— Editing by Mark Potter and Bill Berkrot. With files from Global News.
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