Over the past several decades, ever-growing demands for – and misuse of – water resources have increased the risks of pollution and severe water stress in many parts of the world. The frequency and intensity of local water crises have been increasing, with serious implications for public health, environmental sustainability, food and energy security, and economic development. Demographics continue changing and unsustainable economic practices are affecting the quantity and quality of the water at our disposal, making water an increasingly scarce and expensive resource — especially for the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable.
The importance of water is traced to the 1977 Mar del Plata conference in Argentina which created an Action Plan on “Community Water Supply”, declaring that all peoples have the right to access to drinking water in quantities and quality equal to their basic needs. The importance of water was further raised in the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade from 1981 to 1990 and in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (Agenda 21, Chapter 18), as well as at the International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) in Dublin. In 1993 the World Water Day was designated on 22 March by the UN General Assembly, and in 2013 World Toilet Day on 19 November.
In 2000 the Millennium Development Declaration called for the world to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water as well as the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation and in 2003 the International Year of Freshwater was declared by the General Assembly, followed by the “Water for Life" Decade from 2005 to 2015.
In order to coordinate the efforts of UN entities and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues, the Chief Executives Board (CEB) of the United Nations established in 2003 UN-Water — a UN inter-agency coordination mechanism for all freshwater and sanitation related issues.
In 2008 the International Year of Sanitation was declared and on 28 July 2010 the human right to water and sanitation was explicitly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 64/292.
In September 2015 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted at the UN Summit, which includes Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water and sanitation and in December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution “International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development” (2018–2028) in support of the achievement of SDG 6 and other water-related targets. Water is also at the heart of milestone agreements such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all has therefore been for a long time a topic at the United Nations and the priority is now turning the new vision of water related SDGs of the 2030 Agenda into reality, through national leadership and global partnership. Water and sanitation are at the core of sustainable development and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. The world needs now to transform the way it manages its water resources and the way it delivers water and sanitation services for billions of people.