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United Nations Water Conference


The United Nations 2023 Water Conference held recently, was the first such meeting in 46 years. In a recent report entitled ‘Water for Sustainable Development 2018 – 2028’, the 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”.


GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the water conference?
  2. What are the current challenges?
  3. What are the key commitments?

What is the water conference?

  • The water sector is prone to fragmentation because water problems tend to be local.
  • If a particular lake is polluted or a particular area is often flooded, it needs local solutions. Therefore, there is an inherent problem in mobilising globally for local problems.
  • The last UN Water Conference, held in 1977, was groundbreaking as it resulted in the first global ‘Action Plan’ recognising that “all peoples, whatever their stage of development and social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities and of a quality equal to their basic needs.”
  • This declaration led to several decades of global funding and concerted effort to lower the population without access to safe drinking water.

What are the current challenges?

  • Funding: Extending services to underserved populations requires funding, which is a challenge.
  • Access vs. sustained access: Improving access to water and sanitation doesn’t necessarily translate to sustained access due to various reasons.
  • Failed projects: Many drinking water projects have failed because of groundwater over-abstraction or contaminated water sources.
  • Agricultural pumping: Groundwater over-abstraction is mainly driven by agricultural pumping, which needs to be reduced.
  • Policy change: To reduce agricultural pumping, a policy change is required, which needs cooperation from many agencies and ministries.
  • Remaining SDG targets: The remaining SDG targets pertain to sustainable agriculture, industry, and natural ecosystems, which require tough political choices and a stronger democracy.

What are the key commitments?

Voluntary commitments:

  • 713 commitments made by philanthropic donors, governments, corporations, and NGOs
  • India committed $50 billion to improve rural drinking water services under the Jal Jeevan Mission


  • Specific innovations in wastewater treatment presented
  • Proposals for incubation platforms focusing on water management


  • Need to accelerate cross-learning
  • W12+ Blueprint: UNESCO platform hosting city profiles and case studies of programs, technologies, policies that address common water security challenges

Efforts to help marginalised communities and women:

  • ‘Making Rights Real’ offered to help marginalized communities and women exercise their rights
  • ‘Water for Women Fund’ offered mechanisms for more effective and sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene outcomes for women

-Source: The Hindu

February 2024