From 22 to 24 March 2023, about 10,000 participants gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York with the aim to accelerate achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6. Therefore, the two co-hosts of this UN 2023 Water Conference, the governments of The Netherlands and Tajikistan, asked governments and organisations to make concrete commitments to the Water Action Agenda. In total, more than 700 commitments were submitted already and the call for commitments is still open. “The commitments at this Conference will propel humanity towards the water-secure future every person on the planet needs,” noted UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the closing ceremony.
From Mar del Plata to New York
With the previous water conference in Mar del Plata dating back 46 years, this UN 2023 Water Conference could already be labelled an historic event before it had even started. This did, however, come with a huge responsibility for all participants. Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted key game-changers: from reinforcing water’s place as a fundamental human right and reducing the pressures on the hydrological system, to developing new, alternative food systems to reduce the unsustainable use of water in food production and agriculture and designing and implementing a new global water information system to guide plans and priorities by 2030.
Committing to open water data
To make such global water information system a success, it will be crucially important to have sufficient and good quality data. For that reason, 'Data and information' was identified as one of the five accelerators needed to still have a chance of achieving SDG6. However, this will not be possible if that data are not accessible! Therefore, IGRAC took the initiative to submit the #OpenWaterData commitment to the Water Action Agenda, leading up to the UN 2023 Water Conference.
During a site event, organised in collaboration with Water Footprint Implementation, IGRAC presented this commitment. After a brief introduction by Stefan Siepman, the floor was given to Chief Scientist Landing Bojang, who explained why the government of The Gambia joined this commitment. “The open data policy of WMO was agreed by the 193 member states, so makes perfect sense to also support the #OpenWaterData commitment”, Bojang said spurring other countries to follow suit. The commitment was already supported by WMO, UNESCO and ICWRGC, but during the conference also, amongst others, Akvo, Aquaya and Groundwater Youth Network joined. It is still possible to join the commitment here.
Big Earth Data: A game changer to promote implementation of SDG 6
This side-event organized by the International Society for Digital Earth (ISDE) and the International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS) aimed to discuss recent advances and challenges in big earth data sciences and its potential for monitoring SDG 6. Big Earth Data refers to very large datasets – analysed computationally - associated with the Earth sciences. IGRAC Director Elisabeth Lictevout was one of the speakers sharing her thoughts on the importance of Big Earth Data for groundwater assessment. The potential, she said, lies in the multi-source characteristic of big data, allowing to compensate for the deficient availability of in-situ groundwater data and the possibility to perform analysis across scales. As such, big Earth data is key in making groundwater visible, in particular for policy and decision-makers. ¨It is however crucial to keep in mind that in-situ data is and will be always needed to validate models and remote sensing data¨ she said. She also pointed out that uncertainties should be adequately communicated to the users, critical point mentioned as well by Berit Arheimer, president of IAHS.
Global network of water laboratories
Laboratory priorities in the water sector should be established jointly with other national priorities, particularly food and agriculture, human health and minerals and energy sectors, that also depend on functioning national laboratories. To achieve this, the IAEA launched the Global Water Analysis Laboratory (GloWAL) Network on the first day of the conference. During this launch, IGRAC Director Elisabeth Lictevout was one of the speakers expressing IGRAC support to the initiative and sharing her thoughts on how to support the network through transformative data products and, the importance of collecting and sharing water data in general.
Urging greater transboundary water cooperation
In total, 40 countries, regional integration and international organizations, international financial institutions, NGOs, academic and research centers have made a united call at the United Nations 2023 Water Conference to step up global efforts for transboundary water cooperation. A joint statement delivered to the Conference plenary by the President of Slovenia Nataša Pirc Musar on behalf of the Transboundary Water Cooperation Coalition, warned that “cooperation in most transboundary basins is not adequate to deal with future challenges, and progress is too slow”, calling for “increased ambition of the world’s efforts in this area”. In addition, a side event was organized about committing to advance transboundary water cooperation, which can be viewed here. IGRAC is one of the organisations supporting the commitment.
Connecting the World for transboundary groundwater resilience
An unofficial breakfast and side-event was organized outside the UN Headquarters by the Transboundary Groundwater Resiliency (TGR) team hosted by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute to brainstorm opportunities about transboundary groundwater issues. IGRAC Director Elisabeth Lictevout was invited to the event. It was another opportunity to reinforce the urgent need to share data especially in transboundary aquifer context, not only as a source of information and knowledge but also as a mean to build trust.
Groundwater, a cross-sectoral fundament for water action agenda
In December 2022, the groundwater world gathered in Paris for the first ever UN-Water Summit on Groundwater. To ensure that the main outcomes and messages of this unique event would be taken into consideration during this UN 2023 Water Conference, the side event ‘Groundwater: An invisible cross-sectoral fundament for implementation of the water action agenda’ was organised. A total of 31 speakers highlighted the most pressing groundwater challenges and pressing needs for actions. This session, including a speech by Elisabeth Lictevout who facilitated the panel discussion on groundwater data and information, has been recorded and can be viewed here.