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Accelerated global action on water needed: World leaders

London : A high level global panel on water of 11 heads of state and a special advisor has called for a fundamental shift in the way the world manages water so that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 6 on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, can be achieved.

The Panel, which was convened in January 2016 by the United Nations Secretary-General and World Bank Group President, recently released an “outcome report” of its deliberations. The panel had a two-year mandate to find ways to accelerate solutions to the urgent water crisis.

“Making every drop count: An agenda for water action” found that the water crisis has many dimensions.

Today, 40 per cent of the world’s people are affected by water scarcity, with as many as 700 million people at risk of being displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. More than two billion people are compelled to drink unsafe water and more than 4.5 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services.

Women and girls suffer disproportionately when water and sanitation are lacking, affecting health and often restricting work and education opportunities. As much as 80 per cent of wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment and water-related disasters account for 90 per cent of the 1,000 most devastating natural disasters since 1990.

“World leaders now recognize that we face a global water crisis and that we need to reassess how we value and manage water,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“The panel’s recommendations can help to safeguard water resources and make access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation a reality for all.”

As part of the recommendations to address these challenges, the panel is advocating for evidence-based policies and innovative approaches at the global, national and local level to make water management and water and sanitation services attractive for investment and more disaster-resilient. The panel also called for policies that will allow for at least a doubling of water infrastructure investment in the next five years.

The panel’s report sets forth a new approach to catalyze change and build partnerships and cooperation, outlining why an integrated and inclusive approach that draws in sectors like agriculture, and other stakeholders, such as city mayors, is needed. The report makes the case that ways of working between, for example, governments, communities, the private sector and researchers, are essential.

In an Open Letter, the members of the panel conclude: “Whoever you are, whatever you do, wherever you live, we urge you get involved, and contribute to meeting this great challenge: safe water and sanitation for all, and our water resources managed sustainably. Make every drop count. It’s time for action.”

“The ecosystems on which life itself is based – our food security, energy sustainability, public health, jobs, cities – are all at risk because of how water is managed today,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said.

“The work of this panel took place at the level of heads of state and government because the world can no longer afford to take water for granted.”

Water is the common currency which links nearly every SDG, and it will be a critical determinant of success in achieving most other SDGs – on energy, cities, health, the environment, disaster risk management, food security, poverty, and climate change among others, the report said.

“Access to clean water and sanitation must the goal of every responsible leader in an effort to leave no one behind. Let us act in solidarity to ensure the wise and sustainable management of this precious resource", said Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the co-chair of the panel.

The panel's key message is that the world can no longer take water for granted. Individuals, communities, companies, cities, and countries need to better understand, value, and manage water.

The panel articulated an agenda at three levels: A foundation for action; Leading an integrated agenda at the local, country and regional levels; and catalyzing change, building partnerships & international cooperation at the global level.

For Mexico, the high-level panel on water represents a historical and "unprecedented opportunity to promote the recognition of water as an essential transversal element and the basis for the development and welfare of all our Nations. This multilateral initiative stands for the commitment of worldwide leaders to foster existing efforts and generate new dynamics, promoting the water and sanitation’s SDG within the 2030 agenda", said Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, also the co-chair of the panel.

The other members of the panel are Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Hungary President János Áder, Jordan Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Hani Al-Mulki, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Godard, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, Senegal President Macky Sall, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon and former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea Dr Han Seung-soo as special advisor.

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