UN chief says overconsumption of water is ‘draining the blood of humanity’

The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday opened its first conference on water security in nearly half a century, calling on governments to better manage one of humanity’s shared resources.

A quarter of the world’s population depends on unsafe drinking water while half lack basic sanitation facilities, according to the UN. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of recent disasters have been water-related.

“We are draining the blood of humanity through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and we are evaporating it through global warming,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation is part of the UN’s 17-point to-do list for sustainable development, alongside the eradication of hunger and poverty , achieving gender equality and addressing climate change.

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Call to action

While the three-day conference that begins Wednesday in New York is not intended to produce the kind of binding agreement that emerged from meetings on climate in Paris in 2015, or on nature protection in Montreal in 2022, António Guterres said it must “lead to a bold water agenda that gives the lifeblood of our world the commitment it deserves.”

This program aims to establish voluntary commitments from countries and industry representatives, and to create “political momentum”.

“Governments must develop and implement plans that guarantee equitable access to water for all while preserving this precious resource,” said António Guterres.

“I also call on countries to work together across borders to jointly manage water.”

Other voices on the issue include scientists, economists and policy experts on the World Commission on Water Economics, which has issued recommendations including phasing out some US$700 billion of agriculture and water subsidies that she says are environmentally damaging.

This group, set up by the government of the Netherlands, co-organizer of this week’s conference, also supports partnerships between development finance institutions and private investors to improve water supply systems.

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