UN High-Level Events Address Water, Sanitation and DRR; UNSGAB Launches Concluding Report
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The UN addressed the role of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and water management in ensuring food security, increasing access to energy and tackling urbanization challenges at the Second UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters.

The Session convened as part of a series of coordinated events for the UN High-Level Water and Sanitation Days 2015, which included World Toilet Day and culminated with the final meeting of the UN Secretary-General's Special Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB).

un_sanitation_day19 November 2015: The UN addressed the role of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and water management in ensuring food security, increasing access to energy and tackling urbanization challenges at the Second UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters. The Session convened as part of a series of coordinated events for the UN High-Level Water and Sanitation Days 2015, which included World Toilet Day and culminated with the final meeting of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB).

“Issues of water and disaster resilience are so intimately related that it is impossible to think of one without the other. Yet too often we do, by thinking in silos and responding in fragmented ways,” reflected UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the session on Water and Disasters. He called for closing these conceptual and operational gaps and recommended investments in climate resilience and DRR to “combat climate change, save lives and avoid the destruction of vital infrastructure.”

In his opening remarks, President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Mogens Lykketoft said climate change, ecosystem degradation, sustainable land use planning and management, and poverty contribute to worsening disaster risks. Stressing the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Lykketoft said that now is the time to “come together and walk the talk.” He called on the 70th session of the UNGA to “demonstrate that the shift towards a more resilient, just, prosperous and sustainable world is not only feasible, but already happening; and that sustainable development is not just a possibility, but an inevitable.”

Several speakers highlighted the 2015 agreements on the 2030 Agenda, the AAAA and the Sendai Framework and expressed hope for an agreement at the Paris Climate Change Conference. Within this context, Ban urged global commitment to these agreements, saying they call for cross-sectoral thinking in understanding risks and approaches to managing them.

The special session also convened a multi-stakeholder panel on the roles of different stakeholder groups in implementing the Sendai Framework in relation to water. The panel addressed, inter alia, elements of effective, efficient partnerships and the importance of moving towards a more proactive approach to risk management and building resilience to water-related hazards at different levels.

The UNSGAB Closing Ceremony shared the Board’s experience and recommendations and launched its “first and only” report, ‘The UNSGAB Journey.’ The report describes the group’s efforts over its 11-year mandate (related to the MDG period). The Board presented three types of recommendations: thematic recommendations on advancing progress on drinking water, sanitation, wastewater, water resources management, water-related disasters and financing; recommendations for action; and structural recommendations for a more effective global water architecture. Speaking at the ceremony, the UNGA President thanked UNSGAB for its significant contribution, leadership and guidance on safe drinking water and improved sanitation and urged integrated approaches to water, sanitation and water-related disasters in development planning and budgeting.

Water continues to be undervalued and badly managed despite increasing water stress, worsening water-related disasters, degraded ecosystems and increased political tensions in water-scarce areas, the UNSGAB finds in its report. It cautions that the world has not “paid enough attention to the ground rules of sharing water—across sectors and across regional or national boundaries.” The report also discusses challenges related to access to drinking water and sanitation and ending open defecation.

“Considering that a lot of UN organizations deal with water, but only as a marginal issue, nothing less than a full-scale water-cultural revolution within the UN is needed,” concludes the UNSGAB’s report. It recommends: setting up a UN inter-governmental committee and scientific panel on water and sanitation; strengthening UN-Water; allocating increased core funding to water; reviewing the water-related policies of UN agencies; and establishing a comprehensive global monitoring framework. [UN Press Release, 18 November] [UN Secretary-General Statement] [UNGA President Statement, 18 November] [UN-Water Event Website] [Concept Note on Special Session] [Concept Note on Multi Stakeholder Partnership Panel] [UNGA President Statement, 20 November] [UNSGAB Website] [Concept Note on UNSGAB Closing Ceremony] [Publication: The UNSGAB Journey] [IISD RS Story on World Toilet Day]


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