Water resources & Sanitation

What is the challenge ahead of us? - One common goal, lots of global actors and actions - Subnational governments: key actors in promoting sustainable water use and sanitation - nrg4SD action on behalf of its members - Advocacy and position papers - Background and technical documents - Workshops, seminars and other events - What's coming up?

What is the challenge ahead of us?

Water is essential for human life: to ensure his/her basic needs, each individual should have access to 20-50 litres of drinking water per day. Today 1 billion people in the world have no access to improved water supply, while 2.6 billion people have no access to adequate sanitation, mainly in Asia and Africa.

The lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation is a serious threat to human health. Climate change, environmental pollution, increasing population, economic development and rapid urban growth are influencing water supply in both developed and developing worlds. Droughts due to climate change are becoming more frequent even in Europe and North America, leading to water scarcity, and, together with other extreme climate-related events, they generate greater uncertainty over the quality and quantity of water supply.

Industrialisation, intensive agriculture and livestock farming are the main causes of increasingly polluted water sources and aquifers, while population and economic growth and rapid urbanisation are boosting water withdrawals beyond the rate of recharge of the aquifers, leading to water stress throughout the world. Water pollution is also harmful to ecosystems, since the lack of modern wastewater treatment infrastructures puts biodiversity under serious threat.

The challenge is thus twofold: on the one hand, ensuring a wider access to water resources and sanitation in developing countries in order to promote public health and tackle inequalities; on the other hand, preventing the side effects on water resources of climate change, population growth and economic development.

One common goal, lots of global actors and actions

The United Nations (UN) have put water resources and sanitation at the top of the global development agenda. The UN Conference on Water held in Mar del Plata in 1977 – the first and only intergovernmental conference devoted exclusively to water – was followed in 1992 by the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development, stressing that (i)fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment; (ii) water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels; (iii) women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water, and that (iv) water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognised as an economic good.

The UN Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 within the UN Millennium Declaration aim “to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water” and “to stop the unsustainable exploitation of water resources by developing water management strategies at the regional, national and local levels, which promote both equitable access and adequate supplies.

On the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the international community also committed “to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation”.

The UN has proclaimed the period 2005-2015 International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’, with the objective to promote efforts to meet international commitments made on water-related issues by 2015. The Decade focuses on action-oriented activities and policies ensuring long-term sustainable water management and improved access to sanitation through greater cooperation at global level.

The UN has also stressed the impact of climate change on water supply and management, recommending the implementation of adaptation strategies to prevent the consequences of extreme events on water resources. More recently – on the occasion of the UNFCCC international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, in June 2011 – the issue of water was included in international negotiations on climate change. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the Conventionwill address the impacts of climate change on water and integrated water resources management under the Nairobi Work Programme at its next session.

Following the Rio Summit in 1992, the UN General Assembly declared the 22 March of each year as the World Water Day (WWD). Since 1993 States have been invited to celebrate this occasion by implementing UN recommendations and organising concrete activities on water. Each year the WWD is devoted to a different theme: in 2011 this was ‘Water for cities’.

The UN has established in 2003 an inter-agency mechanism called UN-Water to disseminate information, build the knowledge base and provide a platform on water issues, as well as to coordinate the water-related activities of the different UN agencies. One of UN-Water’s main tasks is to monitor and report on the international progress made to achieve water and sanitation targets. The UN World Water Development Report (WWDR) is the UN flagship report on water, published every three years following the World Water Forum.

The European Union (EU) has adopted legislation on water since the second half of the 1970s, setting standards and targets for water quality and use, water pollution and wastewater management aiming to protect both human health and the environment. In 2000 the EU adopted its most coherent and comprehensive piece of legislation on water policy, the Water Framework Directive (WFD), which is built on four main pillars: (i) coordinated action to achieve ‘good status’ for all EU waters, including surface and groundwater, by 2015; (ii) setting up a water management system based on natural river basin districts, crossing regional and national boundaries; (iii) integrated water management, bringing different water management issues into one framework, (iv) active involvement of interested parties and consultation of the public. The WFD stresses the importance of constant water monitoring and calls for integrated river basin management as the best and most cost-effective approach to water governance. Member States are requested to identify the authorities responsible for water management, to implement river basin management plans (RBMPs) and water pricing policies, providing incentives for sustainable water use and mainstreaming the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

The EU announced that a ‘Blueprint to safeguard Europe's Water Resources’ will be released in 2012, aiming to be a long-term strategy, beyond the current EU Water Framework Directive targets and in the context of a more resource-efficient Europe. The Blueprint will contain policy recommendations based on ongoing assessments, as well as water efficiency targets adapted to different national and regional circumstances. It will also aim to overcome the lack of integration with other policy areas, such as land use and management, forest and agricultural policies, and to develop an EU demand-based water policy.

In 2002, at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the EU launched an international political initiative called European Union Water Initiative (EUWI) – Water for Life with the goal to create the conditions for mobilising all available EU human and financial resources, and to coordinate them to achieve the water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in partner countries.

National Policy Dialogues on integrated water resource management (IWRI) as well as water supply and sanitation (WSS) have been developed under the EUWI. These dialogues are based on consultations with relevant ministries, agencies and NGOs from third countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia andAfrica, and they address several issues such as the preparation of strategic water management and drinking water quality plans, the management of transboundary waters, and the adaptation of the water sector to climate change. The EUWI is currently undergoing review and the second phase of this umbrella initiative is expected for 2012.

The World Water Council (WWC) is an international multi-stakeholder platform on water-related issues established in 1996 to raise awareness and promote action at all levels towards a sustainable use and management of water. Since 1997 the WWC has organised the World Water Forum (WWF), the most significant event in the field of water, taking place every three years and aiming (i) to raise the importance of water on the political agenda; (ii) to support the deepening of discussions towards the solution of international water issues in the 21st century; (iii) to formulate concrete proposals and bring their importance to the world’s attention, and (iv) to generate political commitment.

Subnational governments: key actors in promoting sustainable water use and sanitation

Subnational governments are strategically positioned in the management and supply of water and sanitation. In this domain subnational governments have a key roles in several areas:

  • Regulation and legislation: adopting legislation and regulation on water use and conservation;
  • Planning: drafting strategies for sustainable water use;
  • Monitoring: ensuring that water use is consistent and complies with existing legislation, monitoring the ecological status of water bodies;
  • Safeguard: ensuring an adequate level of water supply, distribution and treatment, as well as preventing water pollution, and
  • Interaction with end-users: raising awareness, acting as an ‘interface’ with citizens, business sector, civil society, etc. on water-related issues.

The World Water Council (WWC) has acknowledged the major role of subnational governments in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and has developed a Local and Regional Authorities Process in the framework of the past editions of the World Water Forum aiming to strengthen their capacity to better develop and manage water resources and services.

Since the last edition of the World Water Forum in Istanbul, local and regional authorities have been invited to sign the Istanbul Water Consensus (IWC), calling on subnational governments to adapt their water infrastructures and services to the emerging challenges they are facing, such as climate change, rapid urban growth, depletion and pollution of water resources.

nrg4SD action on behalf of its members

nrg4SD activities in the field of water resources and sanitation mainly focus on strengthening capacity-building and collaboration among its members, as well as lobbying at international level towards the recognition of subnational governments as key actors in water and sanitation policies.

In April 2010, at the Summit of Regions co-organised by nrg4SD and the Congress of Intendents of Uruguay in Montevideo, the adoption of a 2010-2014 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a cooperation framework on water issues in Latin America and the Caribbean was signed. Developed by the Basque Government and the Water Agency, the agreement includes a long list of areas of Latin America, Caribbean and the Iberian Peninsula wishing to establish a long-term collaboration on water issues related to sustainable development. The objectives of the MoU are: (i) education, training capacity and awareness on water issues, with emphasis on the participation of women, (ii) the exchange of advice on water planning, (iii) collaboration for research, innovation and development related to hydrology, (iv) monitoring of the ecological status of water bodies, and (v ) the implementation of the International Decade of Water Life 2005-2015.

A few months later, in November 2010, nrg4SD organised in Mar del Plata (Argentina) in collaboration with the Government of the Province of Buenos Aires, its fourth meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean, focused on water. The event provided an opportunity for our members in Latin America and the Caribbean to share their experiences on the water issues at technical level. Meanwhile, an online course of 30 hours on awareness and capacity building on water issues was held with the technical expertise of the Basque Country Water Agency.

nrg4SD Working Groups

In 2011, nrg4SD launched its Working Group on Water Resources and Sanitation coordinated by the Basque Country Water Agency which pays particular attention to the development of the nrg4SD Memorandum of Understanding for Latin America and the Caribbean on mutual collaboration on water issues.

The Basque Water Agency has just launched a new edition of online courses on education, training and environmental awareness on water. The course, which focuses on the Latin American region and will therefore be developed in Spanish, aims at contributing to change the culture and mentaility of our societies towards use. The deadline to register is 31 December 2012. For more information on how to register click here >

Earlier in the year the working group concentrated on the activities of the Network in order to incorporate a territorial dimension into the World Water Forum that took place in Marseille (PACA) from 12 - 17 March 2012, including the reinforcement of a regional dimension of the Istanbul Water Consensus. nrg4SD and ORU-FOGAR co-organised a session of Regions and Federated States at the 3rd International Conference of Local and Regional Authorities on 14 March 2012 - more information available here >

More information about the Working Group on Water Policy >

Advocacy and policy papers

Background and technical documents

Workshops, seminars and other events

24 - 26 September 2012, Evian, France - 7th edition of the Planetworkshops’ Global Conference - nrg4SD participating

26 – 31 August 2012, Stockholm, Sweden - World Water Week

20 - 22 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio +20 - On 17 -18 June nrg4SD held its Statutory meetings - General Assembly and Steering Committee and on 19 June co-organised the World Summit of Federated States and Regions with the State of Rio de Janeiro, The Climate Group and Regions-United/FOGAR

22 March 2012 – World Water Day

12-17 March 2012, Marseille, France – 6th World Water Forum - On 14 - 15 March, nrg4SD and Regions-United/FOGAR co-organised the Session of Regions and Federated States in the framework of the 3rd International Conference of Local and Regional Authorities on the occassion of the 6th World Water Forum - On 14 March 2012, Wallonia hosted a side event on North South cooperation

8 – 10 February 2012, Irun, Gipuzkoa, Spain - Freshwater Ecology in Protected Natural Spaces, from awareness to applicaiton

More past events available here >


What’s coming up?

2013 Calendar of events available here >


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