2013 saw many achievements in the promotion of water cooperation, but focus is now turning towards defining the post-2015 development agenda. This article reflects on the lessons of the past year and the promise of the future.
As the closing statements of the closing event of the 2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC) were delivered on December 6 in Mexico City, actors around the world involved in the year-long series of events, programmes, projects and activities breathed a sigh of relief, the smile on their lips reflecting the pride of a job well done.
At the same time, they also acknowledged that the IYWC was only the beginning, and that much remained to be done regarding water cooperation, including active campaigning for entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC), which, since the United Kingdom ratified it last week, is only three documents of accession short of coming into force.
Michel Jarraud, head of UN-Water, the UN agency in charge of organizing events and coordinating actions around water issues, called the year a “success”, one that deployed substantial efforts to raise awareness about the importance of cooperation and the strengthening of international water law. But he went on by stating that the goal of securing universal access to clean water and sanitation, one of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), had not been met, and urged leaders and relevant stakeholders to not put their guard down and continue the efforts that had already gone such a long way.
Many at the Closing Ceremony of the IYWC, which took place in Mexico on December 5-6, shared the same sentiments. High-level speakers and participants alike underscored the importance of water cooperation, noting that collaboration between states and with other relevant actors can help to bring about a of climate of trust and lead to wider collaborative and peace agreements. UNESCO officials present at the ceremony stressed the role cooperation plays in preserving water resources and environmental sustainability and economic development and social progress. The concluding remarks of the Closing Ceremony recognized water as a ““a prerequisite in the future development framework”.
The events which took place throughout the year took on a crucial significance in this respect, enhancing awareness of issues specific to transboundary watercourses and offering courses of action to resolve these issues through closer cooperation.
Indeed, the accomplishments of the IYWC were counted aplenty, including the incorporation of relevant stakeholders of all levels in decision-making and consultations; the publication of a number of reports, in an effort to disseminate information as much as possible; reaching out to grassroots activists and actors to help them make informed decision; and the rewarding of advocacy actions and innovative water-management ideas contributing to fulfilling the objectives set by the MDGs on water.
But the main gains of the year has undoubtedly been the the strengthening of water cooperation. Through far-reaching campaigning and the organization of conferences testifying to the benefits of inclusiveness to prevent and resolve water conflicts, the IYWC has successfully promoted dialogue and cooperation. As a result of the persistent promotion of the advantages of information exchange and publication of reports detailing the benefits of cooperation, states have pledged to work closer with all relevant stakeholders, include local populations in the policy-making process, and work to resolve water disputes with other states.
The way forward
Despite the optimistic mood and hopeful words accompanying the Closing Ceremony , there is the feeling that our attention must now be turned to the future, especially the post-2015 world, when the MDGs are set to expire.
The challenge now is to build on the momentum started with the MDGs and shape a global policy that would bring the world closer to its goals. States, with broad participation from actors from all levels and the help of scientific and academic committees, will seek to define Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), hoping to insert new bricks in the wall of global development.
The definition of SDGs will build on the lessons learned from the successes and failures of the MDGs and outline a global development framework integrated into wider UN agendas.
The SDGs are a series of objectives to be achieved for the post-2015 world, and are to replace the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Under the slogan ‘The Future We Want’, SDGs, when defined, will be targets that every country will commit to hit by a certain date. Similarly to the MDGs, the SDGs are a component of the worldwide drive to build a world in which every individual has achieved a landmark standard of living. The process of defining SDGs was started during the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, which set the process as a priority for the UN policy agenda.
To help states in their work, the UN established the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG-SDGs) and assisting technical committees, which are to present to the UN General Assembly a final document containing their proposal for a list of SDGs.
The OWG-SDGs has already made considerable considerable progress on establishing a water-specific SDG. In a report, water was highlighted as the second-most importance priority for the post-2015 agenda, after food security. Earlier in the year, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the UN, had acknowledged that “water holds the key to development”
This indicates that efforts will be concentrated on defining a strong water-specific objective and that states are willing to deploy the necessary means to implement it.
The Technical Support Team (TST), one of the committees assisting the OWG-SDGs, the proposed water SDG should include the following: the guarantee of universal access to clean water and sanitation; putting an end to open-air latrines; emphasizing the water-food nexus and highlighting the link between water and development; including provisions on climate change adaptation; and having clear, realistic, achievable and technical goals.
2013 had been declared the ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’ by the UN General Assembly. The goals of the series of events, programmes, projects and activities organised throughout the year were to raise awareness of the crisis water supplies are currently facing and of the challenges of building effective water governance. The ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’, part of a wider effort to achieve the MDGs, also aimed at bolstering and promoting water cooperation agreements, in the hopes of enhancing access to water supplies and services.
Despite the success of the 2013 IYWC, the current push to define a new water-related goal, and more widely the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2015, reflects the realization of the need to continue the efforts started with the MDGs to define a new development framework. This need has become more pressing in light of the increasingly dire effects of climate change and risks of water conflicts as supplies of water dwindle. It is also a logical consequence of the efforts made throughout the year to put water at the centre of the development debate and to identify access to clean water and sanitation as a piecemeal of a life of dignity and minimum standard of living.
In addition to the negotiations surrounding the post-2015 development agenda and the proposal by UN-Water of a water goal, a number of events are already planned for 2014, including World Water Day on Water and Energy, the annual UN-Water Conference in Zaragoza, the UN-Water “Water for Life” Best Practices Award, the World Water Week in Stockholm, and the publication of the World Water Development Report on Water and Energy.
This is whyall the actors involved in the IYWC may continue to smile, confident that their combined actions contributed greatly to raising awareness of water issues and strengthening water cooperation.