Humanity’s survival depends on how people manage water, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday at the end of a three-day conference on global water resources during which developing nations made urgent calls for help with cleaner drinking water and better sanitation.
“All of humanity’s hopes for the future depend, in some way, on charting a new course to sustainably manage and conserve water,” Guterres said in his closing remarks.
This includes rational use of water for agriculture and more aggressive action against climate change, he said, and water “needs to be at the center of the global political agenda.”
The U.N. World Water Development Report, issued on the eve of the conference, says 26% of the world’s population — 2 billion people — don’t have access to safe drinking water and 46% — 3.6 billion people — lack access to basic sanitation. U.N. research also shows that almost half the world’s people will suffer severe water stress by 2030.
The conference included many verbal pledges to improve water supplies, but fewer detailed commitments translating ambition into improved daily life for ordinary people.
“We have such beautiful, ambitious policies, but in a way they are unfeasible,” said Lina Taing, senior researcher at the global think tank United Nations University.
She said when it comes to getting people clean water and sanitation, “we know that we are completely off track." Taing said the world needs to increase its actions “four times.”
Throughout the conference, water-stressed nations, particularly those in the developing world, told U.N. members of their need for international aid to provide their people with drinking water and sanitation systems.
“Waging a war on two fronts simultaneously, to address water issues and climate change, is no mean feat, especially for a small island nation like Kiribati which has very limited resources at its disposal,” said Teburoro Tito, U.N. representative from the island nation of fewer than 200,000 people in the middle of the Pacific. He said Kiribati was particularly ill-equipped to respond to natural disasters.