2015 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision to Action. 15-17 January 2015

Action on… Water quality and the protection of ecosystems

Water is essential for life but the amount of freshwater on Earth is limited and its quality is under constant pressure. Preserving the quality of freshwater is important for the drinking-water supply, food production and recreational water use. Water quality can be compromised by the presence of infectious agents, toxic chemicals, and radiological hazards.

Water quality has so far failed to enter the spotlight in global debates. However, 80% of wastewater is discharged into the natural environment without any form of treatment. Pollution resulting from diffuse agricultural and other land use activities has a very serious, but largely un-quantified, damaging impact on the quality of both freshwater and marine water bodies. This pollution imposes heavy costs on downstream users and ecosystems. As water quality continues to decline its impact on increasingly limited water supplies is becoming an issue of serious concern, which was very clearly expressed at Rio+20.

Even if wastewater management is a key component of Millennium Development Goal 7: "to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation", progress towards the sanitation target is off track.

The post-2015 development agenda provides the opportunity to address this gap.

Open Working Group adopted water-quality related targets
6.3 by 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and increasing recycling and safe reuse by x% globally;
6.6 by 2020 protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes;
6.a by 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water and sanitation related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies;
6.b support and strengthen the participation of local communities for improving water and sanitation management;
12.4 by 2020 achieve environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle in accordance with agreed international frameworks and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment;
15.1 by 2020 ensure conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements;
15.8 by 2020 introduce measures to prevent the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive alien species on land and water ecosystems, and control or eradicate the priority species.
Source: Outcome document OWG (2014)

A similar target was proposed previously by UN-Water (2014):

"Reduce wastewater pollution and improve water quality by reducing untreated domestic and industrial wastewater by (x%); increasing wastewater reused safely by (y%); and reducing nutrient pollution by (z%) to maximize water resource availability and improve water quality."

It is recognised that there are many challenges in implementing water quality and protection of ecosystems, involving, among others, the need for improved financing of soft and hard infrastructures, development of institutional capacity for development of standards and regulations and their monitoring and enforcement, limited information and experience on accounting for water quality and ecosystem protection (scale, data, ground-truthing and relevance, coverage and representativeness, added value for decision making, monetary valuation), and disconnection between water and land use regulations.

The water quality implementation tools that should be discussed include:

  • Increased and improved financing and use of economic instruments, such as immediate, targeted and sustained investments reflecting the full life cycle of the facility or monitoring and investing in environmental assets and reducing pollution (e.g. payment for ecosystem service schemes, direct public and private payments, cap-and-trade schemes, eco-certification programmes);
  • Appropriate technologies: for instance, smart wastewater management socially and culturally appropriate, economically and environmentally viable into the future;
  • Capacity development including communication, education and awareness at multiple levels;
  • With regards to water governance, integrated water and wastewater planning and management at national and municipal levels are needed. It is critical that wastewater management and ecosystem approaches become an integral part of river basin and urban planning. Countries may need to adopt a multi-sectoral approach to wastewater management, incorporating principles of ecosystem-based management from the watersheds into the sea, connecting sectors that will reap benefits from better water quality management.

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About the Conference

>> Conveners and partners
>> Objectives and expected outcomes
>> Conference flyerPDF Document
>> AgendaPDF Document
>> StructurePDF Document
>> ParticipantsPDF Document


>> Accommodation
>> Travelling to Zaragoza
>> Your stay in Zaragoza
>> Map

The vision

>> Rio+20
>> Water and sustainable development
>> Global commitments on water
>> A post-2015 global goal for water
>> Water and the Open Working Group (OWG)
>> The role of actors involved

The action

>> Capacity development
>> Financing and economic instruments
>> Governance frameworks
>> Technology

Action on…

>> Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
>> Water Resources Management
>> Water Quality
>> Risk management

14 January: Pre-Conference Side events and Technical Visits

>> Technical visit: La Cartuja
>> Technical visit: The Ebro River Basin Authority and its Automatic System for Hydrologic Information (SAIH)
>> Technical visit: Expo + Water Park
>> New sources: Wastewater reuse
>> Local level actions in decentralized water solidarity towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
>> Water Footprint Assessment
>> Technological advances and Water Policy
>> Cultivando Agua Boa Programme
>> CODIA and water and energy in LAC
>> The fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation

15 January: Setting the scene and the context

>> Achieving sustainable water for all in LAC
>> Achieving water security for Asia and the Pacific
>> Ensuring implementation of the water-related SDGs in Europe
>> Setting the scene

16 January: Whose action?

>> Academia
>> Business
>> Civil society
>> Governments and local authorities
>> Media and Communicators

17 January: Integrating knowledge and the way forward

>> Multi-stakeholder dialogue on tools for implementation


>> Cases
>> Conference daily
>> Conference Communications ReportPDF Document
>> Discussion forum
>> Information briefs on Water and Sustainable Development
>> Interviewing conference participants
>> Overview Papers
>> Presentations from participants
>> Session Reports
>> Tool Papers
>> Toolbox
>> Twitter Activity Report
>> Video recording of sessions
>> Video interviews with conference participants

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>> Conference posterPDF document