Water is in danger, let’s react!

Darfur, Sudan. Women collecting water. ©Solidarités International.

Today, 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion to sanitation services. The dramatic consequence: unsafe water kills 2.6 million people each year (the majority of them are children) due to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. However, in 2015, States and the UN committed themselves to universal access to safe water with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

For water actors, for humanitarian workers, the first priority is to save lives. To achieve this, we need to strengthen the synergy between water, hygiene and sanitation, to strengthen the link between the emergency, the reconstruction and development phases, and the multi-stakeholder initiatives.

But all this will not be enough to meet the immense challenges of the rapidly growing world population, especially in Africa, as well as the exponential increase in water consumption, pollution and the harmful effects of climate change on water resources.

Dangerous voltages.

The dramatic consequences are increasing every day for millions of men, women and children. Tensions between farmers and herders, between rural and urban, between industry and agriculture. This is already the case in the Horn of Africa, India, Iran and Darfur.

It is also the rise of tensions between the countries bordering the major rivers in the Middle East between Turkey, Iraq and Syria, between Egypt and Ethiopia, between India and Bangladesh, between China and this vast region whose major rivers originate in Tibet in the Himalayas and its glaciers threatened by climate change!

So we have to raise a simple, disturbing and serious issue. Is there not a contradiction between Goal 6 water-sanitation of the SDGs and its immense challenges? Have its challenges been taken into account in the establishment of the SDGs? We can doubt it when more than twenty United Nations agencies deal with water in the absence of the necessary intergovernmental coordination. We can also doubt this since there seems to be no formal, transparent and monitored international financing plan.

The world is not on the right track.

The sentence came when the UN, through UN Water, published its first report since the launch of the SDGs in 2015, officially declaring in July 2018 that “the world is not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030″ and, regarding the water and sanitation target, that”… funding is insufficient (…) as is governance and capacity in the least developed countries”. We had anticipated this and written it in Solidarités International’s 2017 Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Barometer. It is now official.

To the point of wondering if the water-sanitation SDG is not a pipe dream! It may rightly be recalled that the MDGs (Global Development Goals) made very great progress between 2000 and 2015, that is correct. We can also count on and dream of the beneficial effects of innovation and progress. But the deadline for the SDGs is 12 years from now and let us not forget that they are not binding on the 195 signatory states and that many of them will not succeed without the support of the others!

Regarding France, our country, we are looking forward to a real international strategy enshrined in the next Orientation and Finance Law in 2019 with all the necessary resources. Not to mention the million of our fellow citizens in metropolitan France and overseas who do not yet have access to drinking water!

The UN Water report is here and we can’t pretend the verdict didn’t come in! We must sound the alarm, that water actors, humanitarian workers mobilize and call on politicians to launch them: “and if we really achieve the SDGs and the Water and Sanitation Objective”.

Alain Boinet.