World governments deliver water action agenda in response to global crisis

Published 11:53 on March 25, 2023  /  Last updated at 18:10 on March 25, 2023  / Stian Reklev /  Biodiversity

The UN Water Conference in New York wrapped up late Friday with billions of dollars pledged by governments and companies and a Water Action Agenda counting over 700 global commitments on water, including nearly 300 related to biodiversity.

The UN Water Conference in New York wrapped up late Friday with billions of dollars pledged by governments and companies and a Water Action Agenda counting over 700 global commitments on water, including nearly 300 related to biodiversity.

Running from Wednesday through Friday, the first UN-led water conference in nearly half a century sought to deal with the pressing global water crisis, with around a quarter of the world’s population lacking access to safe drinking water and almost half go without basic sanitation.

Freshwater ecosystems have lost 83% of their fauna and flora since 1970, experts say, making the water crisis among the most pressing concerns as the world scrambles to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

“The commitments at this conference will propel humanity towards the water-secure future every person on the planet needs,” UN General-Secretary Antonio Guterres said in a statement as the conference closed.

Guterres called for the world to develop new, alternative food systems to reduce unsustainable water usage in agriculture, a sector responsible for around 70% of water withdrawals globally.

He also said nations should integrate their approach on water, ecosystems, and climate change in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen communities.


The Water Action Agenda was the concrete outcome from the event, with more than 160 governments and 75 multilateral organisations, in addition to a number of companies and NGOs, submitting commitments, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

The UN had the total number at more than 700, addressing issues like health and sanitation technology and policies, resilience, capacity-building, water management, freshwater resources restoration, drought and desertification management and prevention, and so on.

One of the biggest financial commitments announced was a US pledge to spend up to $49 billion to support climate-resilient water and sanitation and services.

The Asian Development Bank will spend $11 bln on the Asia-Pacific water sector and $100 bln globally by 2030, while a group of 17 companies – including the Coca-Cola Foundation, Veolia, and Xylem – promised to invest $11 bln in research and development of new water-related technologies.

Germany’s Bayer, meanwhile, registered a recently set company target of transforming rice growing methods to slash water use in production by 25% by 2030.

Nearly 300 of the commitments related directly or indirectly to biodiversity, some on a policy-level that may have significant ripple effects, such as the EU’s pledge to strengthen its policy and regulatory framework on water and biodiversity.

“The EU commits to work with UNEP until 2026 on a replicable and scalable comprehensive management approach that revalues, restores, and reconnects watersheds, including rivers, lakes, wetlands, and other surface and groundwater ecosystems,” the EU commitment said.

Vietnam said it will develop policies for major river basins management by 2025, while a raft of individual water projects worldwide were registered by various companies and groups looking to improve conditions for rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

Many of the commitments had already been announced or planned, though observers were optimistic that the Water Action Agenda can make a real contribution to solving the water crisis.

“WRI analysed all 670-plus voluntary commitments that governments, businesses, NGOs and others submitted to the Water Action Agenda, and while over 70% of them lack quantified targets or enough consideration of climate risks, around 200 promise to be true game-changers,” Ani Dasgupta, president and CEO of WRI, said in a statement.

“These commitments – if funded – could have real impact, ensuring more people can access clean water and sanitation, helping communities build resilience to floods and droughts, and reducing the risk of water-driven conflicts. Holding all actors accountable and monitoring progress on these water commitments will be critical moving forward.”

Dasgupta urged everyone involved – governments, companies, and organisations – to move away from the old-fashioned project-based approach to a systems-based one that ensures economies recognise the full value of water, that national and trans-boundary governance systems are improved, and that sufficient finance will be delivered for the transition.

“Currently, there is a $200-300 billion annual gap in funding global water services, and one-third of that gap is in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Wealthy countries must step up with far more finance for developing countries, while also building mechanisms to attract greater private sector investment. Countries have no path to prosperity without water. The solutions exist today and the economic case for action has never been more clear,” he said.

By Stian Reklev –

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