Unless we drastically change the way we manage freshwater, global demand will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030. For the first time since 1977, water will be at the top of the agenda, as world leaders gather to commit to the most important and pressing water-related issues during the United Nations 2023 Water Conference. Why is this an important moment? Because water is our most precious resource. It is essential to create and sustain any form of life. It is also an important driver to achieve a more equal and peaceful world. Water even has its own Global Goal: Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation.
Despite its clear importance for people and the planet, global leaders have not met to discuss water-related issues in over 46 years!
To this day:
- Over 2 billion people still do not have access to safe water. (Source)
- Poor sanitation affects over 3.6 billion people. (Source)
- 90% of natural disasters are water-related. (Source)
- Over 80% of wastewater is released in nature without treatment. (Source)
- Widespread droughts are set to become the next pandemic as climate change intensifies. (Source)
HOPE IN A CRISIS
Our leaders’ inaction on the multiple crises has left many activists and campaigners discouraged. As a young water and climate activist from Canada, I come from a country that has significantly contributed to the current climate crisis and that still benefits from some 20% of the world’s total freshwater resources. When traveling abroad for the first time, I was taken aback by the lack of access to safe water, and poor sanitation, which affects so many communities around the globe and by the impacts of widespread droughts on people’s lives. I soon came to realise that the current state of the world was deeply unfair, as those having least contributed to the climate crisis were the most impacted by its effects, which are almost entirely water-related.
However, there is still reason to be hopeful. This year, World Water Day, which has been held on 22 March every year since 1993, and the UN’s Water Conference, present a unique opportunity to accelerate solutions to the water and sanitation crisis. The conference will address the following themes: Water for Health, Water for Sustainable Development, Water for Climate, Resilience and Environment, Water for Cooperation & Water Action Decade. While there will be no negotiated outcome to the conference, all stakeholders are invited to make voluntary commitments through the Water Action Agenda.
THE POWER OF YOUTH
In the lead-up to this important moment, thousands of youth and allies have come together through the Global Youth Movement for Water (GYMW) to amplify the voices of our generation. Launched during the 9th World Water Forum in Senegal (2022) by the International Secretariat for Water, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Senegalese organisers, the GYMW brings together over 370 youth-led organisations and allies to influence decision-makers, increase our negotiating power and encourage action around the globe. Young people under 35 make up more than half of the world’s population and we’re among the hardest hit by the water crisis. Despite being agents of change in a rapidly changing world, we are rarely included in major decision-making processes about global issues. In fact, only 2.6% of the world’s parliamentarians are under 30. This needs to change!
This conference is our opportunity to rally the world around our most precious and finite resource: clean water. Over the past years, we’ve been inspiring change through concrete actions in thousands of communities worldwide and youth-led initiatives and organisations have multiplied at all levels. But we need more. We need more commitment and more bold political will. The #FIllUpTheGlass campaign was thus launched to create a youth movement for water that the world can no longer ignore.
In Nepal, the DrinkPani initiative is using citizen-science to enhance drinking water security. The Central Asia Youth for Water Network is strengthening regional water cooperation and diplomacy to ensure sustainable peace through joint efforts. In Latin America, Red de Jovenes por el Agua is advocating for universal access to water and sanitation. These are only a few of the many inspiring examples of how youth are leading the way in all parts of the world.
As we seek to make a much bigger impact, we believe cooperation across generations, countries and sectors is the most effective way to better manage and preserve our most valuable resource. For the sake of our generation and those still to come, we must come together to #FillUpTheGlass.
As the theme for World Water Day 2023 is “Accelerating Change”, we commit to strengthening collaboration, coordination and peer-to-peer learning amongst youth organisations in the water space and to amplifying our actions, outreach and impact through a united voice for the implementation of Global Goal 6.
WATER = PEACE
At the UN Conference, we call on our decision-makers to obtain a UN General Assembly Resolution calling on the establishment of regular intergovernmental meetings on water within the UN. Furthermore, we encourage the nomination of a UN Youth Envoy on Water and a Youth Advisory Group on Water, representing different regions of the world. We also call on the importance of ensuring that youth and women receive adequate education to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill their role as agents of change. Finally, we believe that young people must be included in all water-related mechanisms, negotiations and decisions so that they can be part of the solution. Water is an instrument of peace, and cooperation is needed to guarantee peaceful societies.
No matter where you are, you can partake in our movement and act now because you have the power to inspire change! Small things add up and every action is a drop in the sea of change.
To learn more about the #FIllUpTheGlass campaign: https://filluptheglass.org/
Join the movement here.
About the author:
Elysa Vaillancourt is Youth Project Manager at the International Secretariat for Water.