Giving water a voice

Tom Mollenkopf IWA President
Tom Mollenkopf, President, IWA Tom Mollenkopf © IWA

The UN 2023 Water Conference held on 22-24 March 2023 gave cause for both optimism and trepidation. Optimism because it represented an opportunity for honest conversation, tackling the topic of the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation (2018-2028). This is a critical plan very much in need of constructive reflection and re-commitment.

Yet there was trepidation, because the water issues confronting us are so immense, the geopolitics of the world so complex, and the results of some global meetings so mixed. The risk is that concrete outcomes take second place to hyperbole.

As the UN acknowledges, our progress on water-related goals and targets remains alarmingly off-track, jeopardizing the entire sustainable development agenda. I was encouraged however by the words of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, when he said that ‘the UN 2023 Water Conference in March must result in a bold Water Action Agenda that gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves.’

Given the importance of the event, and IWA’s unique position globally, the Association took a visible presence. As the largest and broadest based international association for water professionals, we have a responsibility to ensure that critical decisions are informed by the latest science and practice in water management. IWA was there because our members have an expectation that we will advocate for better water policy. The event also gave an opportunity to connect our members, civil society, and key global actors.

IWA endeavoured to participate in a considered and balanced way. Our role is to provide opportunities for knowledge sharing, innovation, leadership development and constructive exchange. Our strength is anchored in our integrity, bringing the latest science, technology and best practice to the water sector at large. We work to place water on the global political agenda and to influence best practice in regulation and policy making. Importantly, we are not politically aligned and do not lobby for the interests of any particular segment or industry.

A key component of our involvement at the UN Water Conference was the participation of 14 of IWA’s brightest international young water professionals in the joint IWA-Grundfos Youth Action for SDG6 Fellowship. These YWPs, together with IWA and Grundfos, were there to play a key role advocating for a water-wise world and youth empowerment throughout the Fellowship.

IWA also held a side event on cross-sectoral partnerships to accelerate progress towards inclusive sanitation. This session looked beyond technology and the usual focus on building infrastructure and discussed how to adopt a holistic approach to create a conducive policy, legal, institutional, and regulatory environment that enables and incentivizes accelerated progress towards safe sanitation services for all.

Finally, we also actively supported some of our many partners at the event. Of particular note, and building on our successful High Level Summit at the World Water Congress in Copenhagen last September, we joined with the Danish Ministry of Environment to deliver a session on International Partnerships and their role in achieving SDG 6.

IWA was present as the voice of water on the global stage, because being absent or staying silent at such times is not an option. But our role does not stop there, because we know that talk is not enough. The bigger need of the global community is the skills, experience and commitment of water professionals and our determination to translate these into action.

Tom Mollenkopf, President, IWA