Water for Life Voices

Water for Life Voices: Recharge area

Lessons of a Decade

The United Nations General Assembly
dedicated the years 2005 to 2015 as The Decade for Action: Water for Life. This has been a time of great change in water and sanitation services and overall in the water sector. We have learned from the past, and improved many processes through greater coordination and inclusiveness. Yet it’s difficult to ignore the sense that our timeline is contracting – man-made climate change, growing populations, increasing inequalities, and the increasing demands of a global economy on fresh water resources have increased the urgency of our mission, even as we have improved.

What’s happened for provision of water, sanitation and hygiene?

Increasing access to drinking-water and sanitation brings huge benefits to the development of countries by improving health outcomes and the economy. The impact of diarrhoeal disease on children is greater than the combined impact of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; providing improved sanitation and drinking-water could reduce diarrhoeal diseases by 90%, and the number of children who die each year by 2.2 million. Water-related improvements are crucial to meet the development goals, reduce child mortality, and improve health and the economy in a sustainable way. Although the MDG for access to an improved water source was met in 2010, 748 million people still do not have access to an improved source of drinking-water and 2.5 billion lack access to improved sanitation.

What progress on the Decade’s themes?

Water for a sustainable future. Water is a finite and irreplaceable resource that is fundamental to human well-being and only renewable if well managed. Smart water management is a pre-condition for sustainable development. Managed efficiently and equitably, water can play a vital role in strengthening the resilience of social, economic and environmental systems in the face of rapid and unpredictable changes. Crucial to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals is the transition to an economy that not only improves human well-being and lessens inequality but also reduces environmental risks and ecological scarcities. During the last years, the concept of "green economy" has entered the global discourse and is contributing to position this issue.

Considering water quality. There are great differences in water availability from region to region and its quality is under constant pressure. Pollution of water resources is posing major problems for water users as well as for maintaining natural ecosystems. Water quality considerations are now becoming a priority when assessing progress made in access to water worldwide as many sources considered ‘improved sources’ not provide safe water, particularly in developing countries.

Reducing the gap between cities and rural areas. More than half of the global population now lives in cities, and urban areas are still better supplied with improved water and sanitation than rural ones. But the gap is decreasing. By 2012, 96% of people living in towns and 82% of those in rural areas had access to improved water.

Improving food security through water. Water is key to food security. Crops and livestock need water to grow. Agriculture requires large quantities of water for irrigation and good quality for various production processes. The challenge of providing sufficient food for a global population has never been greater. The deteriorating trends in the capacities of ecosystems to provide vital goods and services are already affecting the production potential of important food-producing zones. However, in some locations, better technology, management practices and policies reversed negative trends and thus indicate pathways towards models of sustainable production and consumption.

Understanding water and energy linkages. All sources of energy require water in the production process. Energy is itself required to make water resources available for human use and consumption (including irrigation) through pumping, transportation, treatment, and desalination. Long overlooked, more people are becoming familiar with the water-energy nexus as demand for electricity grows and water supplies decline in certain regions across the world.

What has changed in relation to women’s participation?

Ensuring the participation of women in water-related development efforts. Water is part of global gender inequality. At a local level in many societies, women play a central role in providing water supply and sanitation. They have primary responsibility for the management of household water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Providing access to clean water close to the home can dramatically reduce women’s workloads, and free up time for other economic activities. Involving both women and men in water resource management and sanitation policies is crucial to ensure that the specific needs and concerns of women and men from all social groups are taken into account. In recent years, the involvement of women in water and sanitation projects and gender mainstreaming has contributed to change in the situation.

What has changed in water cooperation?

Furthering water cooperation. Water is a shared resource on which life, the environment and most human activities depend. In recent decades, competition for water has increased sharply due to growing demands to satisfy the needs of a growing population, while the resource appears to be scarcer in many areas. Water has rarely been the root of conflicts, but it can be an exacerbating factor where social and political tensions already exist. The interests of farmers, domestic users, hydropower generators, recreational users and ecosystems are often at odds regarding water, and international boundaries make the situation even more complex. But while transboundary cooperation has often been difficult, experience has shown that sharing a resource as precious as water can be a catalyst for cooperationrather than conflicts.

What has been the role of global actors and actions?

We have seen the transformative power of global monitoring, reporting and information gathering. The private sector has found a role in global processes in water; scaling up private sector participation is key. Coordination within the UN and with global partners has improved: We have seen the importance of global awareness raising and communications and the role of media expand. Today, the world understands that ordinary people, once engaged, can drive positive change. Civil society and local authorities have become key drivers in reaching local communities.

What´s next?

There needs to be a concerted effort of all stakeholders to ensure that we implement the new post 2015 water agenda. The Global Partnership of developed countries has come together to provide development assistance and expertise for the developing world. We hope to see this strengthened and its remit extended to ensure opportunities for prosperity for all, regardless of nationality, or circumstances at birth.

The UN understands that while the design and implementation of sustainable development policies will be at the national level, achieving sustainable development will require international support and cooperation.

The challenge for policymakers is to channel and incentivize more of these diverse and decentralized sources of financing into desired investments in sustainable development.

Transparency and accountability must underpin all financing to enhance legitimacy and effectiveness1.

Building resilience to disasters: There is undisputable evidence today of our increasing vulnerability to weather and water-related hazards, exacerbated by climate change. Resulting economic losses have increased nearly 50-fold since the mid-1950s. At the same time, however, it has been possible to dramatically decrease loss of life over the same period by a factor of about 10, in particular as a consequence of the development of early warning systems in a number of high-risk countries, as well as of decisive advances in hazard forecasting and monitoring, and of more effective and coordinated emergency preparedness and planning but we need to do more to increase the resilience of communities.


Dispersion: Thoughts on the Decade

>> Voices of experts
>> Voices from business
>> Voices from the civil society
>> Voices from the field: case studies

Knowledge Bank: Learning from cases all over the world

>> Africa
>> Asia and the Pacific
>> Europe
>> Latin America and the Caribbean
>> Middle East
>> Oceania

Recharge Area

>> Decade’s achievements. From MDGs to SDGs
>> Five years of UN-Water "Water for Life" Awards 2011-2015PDF document
>> Water for Life VoicesPDF document