UN-Water Conference (March 2023) was a watershed moment in the WASHsphere where the world convened to discuss steps towards a water-secure future for planet Earth. The event allowed me to attend the main event, engage in sanitation-themed side events, and interact with diverse stakeholders in the WASH universe.
I was intrigued by the growing importance of non-sewered/off-grid sanitation solutions, sanitation entrepreneurs and sanitation workers in the drive towards universal access to WASH, especially in the global south.
The UN Water Conference was timely and came in the face of grim statistics on global access to WASH;
A quarter of the world (approximately 2 billion people) uses unsafe drinking water.
- 3.6 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation;
- 2.3 billion people lack access to basic handwashing facilities in their homes;
- Over 80% of wastewater released into the environment is untreated or reused;
- Droughts are becoming frequent due to adversities caused by climate change and could be the next pandemic;
- Three-quarters of all recent disasters are water-related and have caused economic damage estimated at $700 billion in the last 20 years.
Our responses to these challenges have been reactionary, short-term and siloed, failing to recognize the complexity of WASH. The UN Water conference, therefore, sought holistic, integrated and future-oriented solutions towards universal access to WASH built on the principles of inclusivity, equity, climate resilience and sustainability with water at their core.
The conference was a melting pot of countries, businesses, NGOs, development agencies and academia that posited their experiences, insights and innovations in the course of the main event (the conference) and a series of thematic side events, all based on three core principles;
- Inclusivity (leave no one behind);
- Action-oriented interventions and outcomes (concrete actions with traceable results); and,
- Cross-sectoral outlooks (mobilizing other sectors);
The conference realized massive commitments towards universal WASH access initiatives by governments, NGOs, impact funders and regional caucuses of over $90 billion.
These are interesting times for the sanitation sector as the strategies and commitments at the UN Water Conference will realize transformative and impactful interventions to ensure universal access to safely managed sanitation by 2030.