Promising Disucssions on World Water Day in The Hague

The Hague was the venue for this year’s main World Water Day celebration on 22 March, organized by the United Nations and the Government of the Netherlands. High-level participants gathered from around the globe to discuss water cooperation for peace and sustainable development.

Experts from around the world attended, covering the whole range of issues related to water, from poverty and inequality reduction, to economic development and environmental protection, to cooperation and peacebuilding.

Attendees included:

  • Prince of Orange in a final appearance as Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB);
  • the President of Liberia, who also co-chairs the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda;
  • the Directors-General of UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organization
  • Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan;
  • Ministers from the Netherlands, Hungary, Mozambique, Switzerland, and Tajikistan;
  • business and religious leaders;
  • Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aarsten, who opened the festivities.

The day, of course, would not have been complete without the children of the Walking for Water Campaign, who raised awareness and funds and everyone’s spirits by replicating the water fetching routine that many children of their age have to perform daily in developing countries, often at the cost of missing school.

The day’s discussions and the outcome statement, which also takes into account consultations held in The Hague on 21 March, reaffirmed water as the central element in the water-energy-food nexus and a key determinant of sustainable development in all its aspects, social, economic, and environmental.

Leaders stressed that the world must work hard until 2015 to achieve and go beyond the water and sanitation target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Post-2015 Development Agenda should be more ambitious, aiming for universal access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene services; integrated and sustainable monitoring and governance of ground and surface water for human needs and ecosystem requirements; and collection and treatment of all used water and wastewater before it is returned to nature.

Discussants in the “Water Cooperation Builds Peace” thematic breakout session stressed the importance of raising awareness of the cooperation potential of water, and of dispelling misunderstandings among communities and countries that share water resources. Capacity building for sustainable water management was identified as a top priority, and a direct link was made between the right to water and human dignity. Securing these entailed concrete obligations on governance structures from the local to the national, regional, and global level, as well as for individuals everywhere.

The role of world religious leaders in advancing the water and sanitation targets, and nurturing a culture of peace around water through their sermons was offered as a promising way forward, with proposed interventions to rehabilitate the Jordan and Ganges rivers, which are holy to several religions, given as an example of symbolically and practically powerful action.

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