Side event. UN-Water: The Road to Rio. Water for Development and Poverty Eradication at the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference

Date: 16 November 2011
Time: 10:00-13:00
Convenor: UN-Water
Organizers: UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC) with the collaboration of UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC)
Venue: Bonn2011 Conference World Conference Center Bonn, Hall F & G

About the session

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), 20-22 June 2012, is one of the most important events in the UN agenda. Of critical importance to the success of Rio+20 will be the way in which the needs and concerns of developing countries are addressed. There are concerns about the introduction of new conditionalities that might restrict trade, financing and official development assistance, and limit public policy space to protect the environment, regulate markets and pursue social objectives.

The need to improve the provision of basic water and sanitation services and the management of the world's water resources has been underlined at previous international conferences on sustainable development. Both Earth Summits in Rio (1992) and Johannesburg (2002) called for actions to improve the delivery of services to the very poor and the way water is managed and used. Rio+20 presents a unique opportunity to boost commitment from governments to implement these actions.

Progress is uneven. Today one out of five people in the world – 1.4 billion – currently lives on $1.25 or less a day and almost a billion go hungry every day. The world is facing major and overlapping global crises: the economic and financial crisis, accelerating environmental degradation, water scarcity and pollution, and emerging impacts of a changing climate. Drinking water and especially sanitation services for the poor are lagging behind in key regions of the world. All of these challenges impede efforts to eradicate poverty, promote economic development and achieve an equitable society.

In this session, some of the key expectations that specific Member States have for water and about the role that the UN is expected to play towards Rio+20 were presented and discussed. UN-Water members and partners discussed the UN-Water messages and showcased and discussed key initiatives that have been important in supporting the role of water in the development agenda and what we can expect for water in the Rio+20 conference.

About Rio+20

Rio+20 is an historic opportunity to define pathways to a safer, more equitable, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all.

Twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where countries adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection – the UN is again bringing together governments, international institutions and major groups to agree on a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable and fair use of resources.

The official discussions at Rio+20 will focus on two main themes: how to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty; and how to improve international coordination for sustainable development.


Facilitator: Johan Kuylenstierna. Centre Director, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

10:00-10:30 / Opening: Political Expectations for Rio. Key messages from Member States

In the preparatory process some Member States have supported the idea of water being a key emerging issue to be addressed at the Rio conference. This is an encouraging sign for those keen to see water feature prominently at Rio+20. The opening session served to present some of the key expectations that specific Member States have for water in Rio and their expectations about the role that the UN is expected to play.

10:30-11:30 / First panel discussion: Water in the development agenda


Zafar Adeel. Chair UN-Water, United Nations University (UNU)

Momentum has been building to highlight water as a priority issue for Rio+20. UN Water key note speech in the panel presented the main messages of UN-Water for Rio. UN-Water messages to participants of the Rio+20 Summit highlight the importance of sustainable water management and the efficient provision of adequate drinking water and sanitation services, investment in water infrastructure and water-based adaptation to climate change, for successfully achieving a green economy. They emphasize the importance of targeting the poorest to help lift them out of poverty and realize their human right to basic drinking water and sanitation services. The Stockholm statement (agreed in the Stockholm World Water Week 2011) calls for effective water management to help adapt to the impacts of climate change and promote economic growth. Water policy and institutional reform is urged, in order to promote water use efficiency, protect freshwater ecosystems and achieve water, energy and food security. Increasing the water resilience and sustainability of cities is identified as a priority area, as is agriculture where there is a need to increase efficiencies along the whole food supply chain from water use through to reducing food wastage.

Panel discussion

The panel showcased and discussed with key UN-Water partners some key initiatives that have been important in supporting the role of water in the development agenda. These include the UNEP Green Economy initiative, the messages of World Water Development Report for Rio, and the Stockholm Statement.

Aspects tackled in the panel discussion included:

  • There is no green economy without water and good water resources management. The green economy serves to implement the three pillars of sustainable development (environmental, economic and social). The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) define a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. The green economy concept has already served an important purpose: acting as a catalyst and rallying individual, national and international actors to work together towards a common vision. While it is evident that 'business-as-usual' is not working, articulating the details of a green economy and identifying possible pathways to get there will be a major task for the Rio+20 Summit.
  • The business as usual approach must change. The World Water Development Report 4 emphasizes that this requires that we address "out of the water box issues" and specifically that the key drivers impacting the condition, use and management of water resources are all external to the water box. The framework within which water managers operate are drawn by the decisions of those leaders in the governments, civil society and private sector at large, in many cases without water being taken into account. This also requires to recognize and deal with the uncertainties and associated risks involved in the planning, management and operation of wate-related systems which have increased in number, severity, and complexity.
  • The need to improve efficiency. During the World Water Week 2010 the Stockholm Statement was issued. It declares that "water is the bloodstream of the green economy". A number of specific targets are proposed for participants of the Rio+20 Summit, such as a "20% increase in water use efficiency in agriculture" and a "20% decrease in water pollution" by 2020. This provides a specific edge to the messages for Rio that will be discussed during the Un-water Session.
  • Scaling up the efforts in sanitation but also on efficiency. On 26 September 2011, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation released its official contribution to Rio+20. The message is clear: "good management of water and sanitation is a precondition for sustainable development". The Board urges for decisive objectives and targets on (a) access to safe drinking water and sanitation; (b) wastewater management; and (c) more productive water use in agriculture.
  • Women for Water is about involving this immense segment of the world population that has no adequate access to drinking water and sanitation, food and energy for their daily needs and those of their families. Many of them live in rural areas. Women, if they get out of their isolated position and when being empowered to take development into their own hands, become self sufficient. It is all about creating an enabling environment for women and their organisations to play that role at the various levels, to further womens' leadership and to ensure that women can participate on an equal footing, especially in the social settings where this is not readily accepted. And particularly at local level, where the implementation takes place. It also implies: going from government to governance. Diversity and inclusion are key. It is important to create an enabling environment for their incorporation into socioeconomic development. This will only work if there is: a re-allocation of available funds to reflect the different roles and to make sure that all key actors – including the Major Group Women- can indeed participate on an equal footing.
  • Water cooperation is a main challenge in water management and a need to identify ways to strengthen cooperation and dialogue, demonstrating best practice, and showcasing effective approaches for the joint management of transboundary water resource. This needs to be a key issues considered for water in Rio highlighting the importance of 'water cooperation for peace and security', 'water cooperation for sustainable development', 'water cooperation for poverty alleviation', 'water cooperation for environmental sustainability', and 'cooperation for universal water access'.
  • How all this is feeding into Rio. The major outcome of the Rio+20 Summit will be a 'focused political document' on the objectives and two themes of the conference. This as yet vaguely defined output will be the subject of intense discussion and negotiations in the months to come, and of course during the conference itself. At the second meeting of the Preparatory Committee in March 2011, the conference Bureau issued an invitation to all stakeholders to provide comments and input for a draft working document – the Zero Draft – which will form the basis for the outcome document of the conference. This Zero Draft is being compiled by the Bureau of the UNCSD Preparatory Committee based on the contributions from stakeholders and Member States and presented in January 2012 when a three-day meeting will be convened to discuss the contents. From February to May, there will be another three separate weeks of informal negotiating on the Zero Draft, before the conference itself.


Nicolas Bertrand. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Olcay Ünver. Coordinator, United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP)
Kenza Robinson. Secretary UN-Water, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)
Anders Berntell. Executive Director, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
Alexander Müller. Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Joakim Harlin. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

11:30-12:00 / Coffee break

12:00-13:00 / Second panel discussion: How are we heading for Rio, the MDGs and beyond


Josefina Maestu. Coordinator, UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC)

UN-Water has already been contributing to the process of moving to action. UN-Water key note speech presented the main messages from the UN-Water Toolkit on water on the green economy in practice. Although the challenges related to water are unquestionably great, there have been many examples of successful sustainable water management which delivers the so-called 'triple bottom' benefits for economies, people and the environment. Six tools were proposed which can be used to facilitate change and support the transition towards a green economy:

  1. economic instruments;
  2. green jobs;
  3. cost recovery and financing;
  4. investments in biodiversity;
  5. technology; and
  6. water planning.

These tools can enable us to 'do more with less', overcome barriers, harness opportunities and change behaviours in order to achieve a green economy; and for this, it is essential to underline that countries are different and are at different stages of development; that some preconditions must be met for successful implementation of this agenda. The first necessary step is to put house in order.

Panel discussion

The panel showcased and discussed what we can expect in Rio and the process ahead for Rio but also what key UN-Water initiatives there are explicitly supporting and making the contribution of Water for Rio operational. They discussed what specific actions are most appropriate in agriculture and cities in Least Development countries; how far we have progressed in water resources management objectives and what is the future beyond 2015 for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Aspects tackled in the panel discussion included:

  • Water and agriculture in the green economy. On 22 March 2012, World Water Day will draw international attention on the relationship between water and food security. Agriculture is a key issue for the green economy as it accounts for 37% of employment, 34% of land use, 70% of water use and up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, globally. Agricultural production will have to increase to achieve food security for a growing population, whilst using fewer natural resources and reducing poverty through improved rural livelihoods.
  • Water and cities in the green economy. Half of humanity now lives in cities, and within two decades, nearly 60% of the world's population will be urban dwellers. Cities cannot be sustainable without ensuring reliable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and wastewater treatment and storm water drainage. However, water supply and sanitation services in urban areas have generally failed to keep pace with urban population growth. Global economic expansion also contributes to increased water demand through the rising number of consumers, desire for higher levels of service and changes in consumption patterns. Although worldwide the proportion of people with access to water and sanitation gradually increases, in 2008 there were more urban dwellers without access to improved water sources (114 million more) and basic sanitation (134 million more) than in the year 2000. Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities gain an average of 5 million residents every month. This brings along many challenges, especially for the urban poor.
  • Universal coverage and scaling up sanitation. An important topic up for discussion at Rio+20 is the future of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Ever since their inception, the eight MDGs have catalysed and directed international development efforts. The year 2015 will likely be met with some successes and some failures. The target to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water is on track for being achieved globally, but the sanitation target lags seriously behind. There is as yet no global framework looking beyond 2015 and the question of 'what next' bears on the future of the sustainable development agenda. Initial discussions led by the WHO and UNICEF on post-2015 monitoring of drinking water and sanitation indicate broad agreement that further goals, targets and indicators are still necessary. One possible outcome is the conversion of the water and sanitation targets into a goal of universal coverage for both. There is support for new global targets but which are better linked to national level targets and accompanied by continued assessment of the enabling environment (e.g. policy frameworks, institutional arrangements, human resource base, financial flows) to identify bottlenecks in implementation. A key message to Rio+20 is that water and sanitation targets should reflect the General Assembly Resolution 64/292 which declared these services as a human right. The human rights concept of progressive realisation should be implemented through rolling five-year interim targets allowing for ongoing monitoring and revision.
  • There is still a way to go in improving water resources management. To this end, UN-Water has undertaken a global survey of 122 countries to take stock on the progress that has been made so far and to identify implementation gaps. A global status report on the 'application on integrated approaches to the development, management and use of water resources' will be delivered to Rio+20. Preliminary findings from the survey indicate that most governments have made progress with water sector reform; but that the implementation process which sees principles turned into policy, laws, strategies and plans is slow. Some countries have difficulty moving beyond the first political steps and targeted support is needed to help bring all countries up to speed.

Alice Bouman-Dentener. President, Women for Water Partnership
Bert Diphoorn. Director, Human Settlements Financing Division, UN-HABITAT
Robert Bos. Coordinator, Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health, World Health Organization (WHO)
Peter Bjoernsen. Director, Centre for Water and Environment, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP-DHI)
Ania Grobicki. Executive Secretary, Global Water Partnership (GWP)