Water as a single post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goal

We need a single post-2015 Sustainable Economic and Social Development Goal for Water with four concrete targets responding to the major challenges: access to truly safe water for basic needs, access to decent sanitation, primary treatment of all wastewater (see my previous post), and, last but not least, rebalancing overdraft of freshwater.

I made my proposals already on several occasions and would like to use this platform to bring them to the attention of an even wider group of people. They are based on a broad consultationearlier this year and then further developed in many discussions with persons from civil society, private sector and government. A single goal for water with four concrete targets as part of the Post-2015 UN Sustainable Development GoalsThe discussion on the post-2015 Goals is ongoing both in New York and in capitals of UN member countries.

The proposals of a single water goals with the four targets as specified below need, if you agree with them, your support whenever and wherever possible

1) Water as a human right – implement the universal accesses to safe drinking water bringing ‘improved’ water to all people by 2025 at the latest, with a parallel focus and longer-term perspective (i.e., beyond 2025) on quality, i.e., moving from an ‘improved’ water perspective to ‘truly safe drinking water’, and on bringing this water actually to the homes of individual citizens. While it is essential for achieving this target that infrastructure costs (including capital costs) are fully covered, water to cover the very basic needs must be free for those who are unable to pay

2) Accelerate the provision of access to improved sanitation to at least 120 million additional people per year, aiming for universal access before 2050. Data on actual improvements achieved show that this is realistically possible; with further strengthened efforts political leaders might aim for even more ambitious targets.

3) Adequate treatment of all municipal and industrial wastewater prior to discharge by 2030. Best practice initiatives and learning to reduce groundwater pollution by agricultural production (traditional, organic, etc.). According to FAO only about half of the 285 cubic-kilometres of wastewater are treated, and only some 10% of treated municipal wastewater is directly re-used. This means there is potential here to close the gap – as outlined in my previous post here on LinkedIn

4) Finally, yet fundamentally, we must address the water overdraft, i.e., bringing freshwater use/waste (initially measured as withdrawals) back into line with sustainable supply (natural renewal minus environmental flows). Without change in the way we are using water today, we risk shortfalls of up to 30% of global cereal production due to water scarcity by 2030. First priority must be on this target 4, if we can’t overcome water overuse, water shortage will impact all other targets above. Cost effective and comprehensive actions are needed, combining the supply side and demand side by increasing the efficiency of water use and managing wastewater as a reusable resource. The 2030 Water Resources Group that I am chairing, a disruptive public-private partnership, is participating in these efforts. But it is an initiative that still needs more support – we are looking for more companies and other stakeholders to join.

Need for reality checks of goals, need for good management, and need for a broader policy context.

All of these targets need to be checked against reality: we did it with data of improvements of the past. But then it is also about good management of their local implementation, rather than solemn declarations, that is what is most needed in the coming years.

And they need to be put in the context of other policies and urgent policy changes:

  • more efforts to reduce loss and waste of food, again a management task, also with the necessary investment in infrastructure, and more responsibility of consumers in advanced economies;
  • we must further liberalise international trade (of virtual water) so, water intensive staple food, for instance, can be grown in regions where water is abundant;
  • land and other property, but also usage rights, for instance private rights to use water particularly of small farmers must be better protected;
  • and governments must no longer wait and stop mandates and subsidies for biofuels.

Water plays a complex role in society and human life, which makes its management quite challenging. This means further discussion on all the points I’ve made over the past few posts remains necessary. More



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