Blog.Sep 29, 2023

Hope for water: Outcomes from the SDG Summit

Karin Gardes reflects on the discussions and deliberations that took place during the SDG Summit at the UN Headquarters in September. She expresses her hopes and talks about ways forward for the water community and beyond.

As I reflect on the discussions and deliberations that took place during the recent SDG Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York this September, perhaps one of the most meaningful encounters I had was with an impassioned taxi driver from Ghana who drove me to the airport. He was enraged about the poor governance that had deteriorated the social cohesion of his country and chased him from his homeland. He criticized diplomatic posturing and opulent spending on the wrong things. No need for any discourse on the importance of clean water, COVID recovery, or a resilient economy. He knew better than any of us firsthand and had completely lost trust in political processes.

At the halfway point of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDG Summit was the largest in-person gathering of world leaders at the UN headquarters since the pandemic, with over 13 thousand country delegates and 40 thousand other participants. Many of those participants oscillated between alarm for the stark lack of progress on the 2030 Agenda and the need to be hopeful, the desire to believe that a better outcome is still possible, especially for the most vulnerable.

Despite the adoption of the landmark UN Resolution on the follow up to the UN 2023 Water Conference, there was little acknowledgement that water is key to the acceleration of the achievement of the SDGs. Indeed, this is proof that the case for water needs to be much more clearly articulated outside the realm of our own community.

What did garner attention was the need to engage in institutional and financial architecture reform. The need for streamlined and efficient mechanisms for addressing global challenges, including water, has become increasingly apparent. Reforms under UN 2.0 will aim to enhance the UN system’s ability to respond to complex, interconnected issues like water security. At SIWI, we are eager to understand how the development of a UN-wide strategy for water, as defined by the latest UN Resolution on water, will fit into this process.

“The case for water needs to be much more clearly articulated outside the realm of our own community.”

Karin Gardes, SIWI's Acting Executive Director

A second important focus was on increased investment and improved financial flows to enable meaningful progress. A recent UNCTAD publication suggests that countries can maximize the impact of their spending by addressing multiple SDGs simultaneously, which corresponds to the holistic approach that SIWI has been advocating for some time. But more importantly, the insights provided by the World Bank’s recent “Scaling up Finance for Water” framework and roadmap for action are invaluable in this regard. This publication outlines a strategic approach to mobilize the financial resources necessary to address water challenges effectively. Critically, the framework acknowledges the need to finance the enabling conditions for scaling up finance and the need to adapt specifically to country contexts.

Finally, SIWI heard the call to embrace multilateralism and partnerships, both between governments and with non-state actors, to drive action and rebuild trust. At the SDG Action Weekend for civil society, we saw evidence that transformative action is happening, from youth, business, local authorities, academics and so many others. As we look to the Summit of the Future, we ask that it be designed in a way to help countries anticipate change better so that populations can adapt to that imminent change more smoothly. Its preparation must be participative and inclusive and partnerships valued.

On a final note of positivity and hope, the new UNGA President recognized in his closing speech the need to safeguard Earth’s natural resources and ensure equitable access to clean water. As we move forward, SIWI’s resolve to establish cooperative relationships and impactful collective action continues to grow, so that leadership for sound Water Governance can emerge and trust with citizens can be restored.