Don't take water for granted, every drop counts

April 20, 2018

Water cannot be taken for granted. This is the heart of the ten-year action plan launched by the United Nations at World Water Day, aimed at the Sustainable Development Goals and more specifically at goal number 6 (Clean water and sanitation) yet which is linked closely to other objectives too, concerning the creation of healthy ecosystems, reducing poverty and enabling development. 

An objective which is still far-off: Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres warned that two billion people worldwide lack access to safe water and over 4.5 billion to adequate sanitation services. 

According to Guterres, “Quite simply, water is a matter of life or death” .

The obstacles

What are the causes making it difficult to achieve this ambitious objective? The United Nations has set up the High Level Panel on Water which explicitly declared, in a letter to leaders world-wide that the water crisis is due to major gaps in access to water supply and sanitation, growing populations, pollution, degrading ecosystems and the effects of climate change. Focusing attention on a situation is important, but it is even more important to come up with solutions: transparent governance and innovative approaches, at the national and local level, are needed to make water management and water and sanitation services attractive for investment, and disaster resilient. In concrete terms, we need to double water infrastructure investment in the next five years.

Otherwise, situations such as the one in Cape Town, the first megalopolis to run out of water during 2018, are destined to become a repeat occurrence. Good intentions and administrative restrictions such as water rationing can delay, but not eliminate, the crisis.  

Water, or rather lack of it, is responsible for an economic loss that can be quantified at 13 billion dollars in Latin America and the Caribbean alone: this is the cost of droughts between 2005 and 2015 which led to the creation of a Strategy for disaster management in the farming and food security sector

Something is happening, attention is rising, and the eighth edition of the Water Forum, held this year in Brasilia, was the largest edition of the event ever. Among the 120,000 visitors, mention must be made of the participation in the sessions dedicated to the near-future decision makers: 12 heads of State and Government, representatives of the United Nations and its agencies, European Union, World Bank, OECD, judges and public prosecutors (who in a dedicated session issued the Charter of Brasilia and the Declaration of the Public Prosecutor Office on the Right to Water).

The number of appeals to institutions is rising, at all levels: for ministers and for local politicians.