Some 785 million people worldwide lack a basic drinking water supply. Experts came together at the UN to find solutions to our planet’s worsening water crisis.
Delegates pose next to a sign set up outside the United Nations headquarters during the UN 2023 Water Conference. Delegates from 196 countries and international organizations addressed the three-day conference on implementing the goals of the International Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation, 2018–2028. (All photos by Enrique Shore for News Decoder.)
The Great Salt Lake in the U.S. state of Utah is drying up. In Pakistan, millions lack safe water as a result of floods. In Kenya, the government is looking for ways to clean the polluted Nairobi River which its residents depend on to irrigate food crops. Meanwhile coastal communities and island nations grapple with ever-rising sea levels that eat at their shorelines.
Delegates from 196 countries and international organizations addressed these and other problems at the three-day UN 2023 Water Conference, with the purpose of implementing goals of the International Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation, 2018–2028.
Bringing the Water Action Agenda to life
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that water needs to be at the center of the world’s political agenda and called for the appointment of a Special Envoy for Water.
“All of humanity’s hopes for the future depend, in some way, on charting a new science-based course to bring the Water Action Agenda to life,” he said.
Among the priorities are new, alternative food systems based on water sustainability and a new global information system to bring about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“This conference demonstrated a central truth: as humanity’s most precious global common good, water unites us all, and it flows across a number of global challenges,” he said.
Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqi, former footballer and co-founder of Football for Peace (left) and Joshua Ricardo Norman, All-Pro NFL cornerback & founding partner of Football for Peace USA (right) participate in the event “Football for the Goals.”
Without water, the game’s over.
Football for Peace founders Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqi, former football star, and Joshua Ricardo Norman, former All-Pro NFL cornerback, spoke about how water is fundamental to any efforts at societal change and how Football for Peace is trying to address that.
“It is using the power of both soccer and American football to serve humanity,” Siddiqi said. “The key thing is, how do you harness that power, with five billion people, that is touching all the way down to grassroots, but also policy change.”
Siddiqi described a tournament the organization sponsored in Liberia. “And during this peace tournament, a truck drove by with water and the water dropped off the truck. The kids stopped playing and actually had a fight over the water. And that for me was the moment the penny dropped. Here we were promoting peace, equality, diversity, peacebuilding, inclusion, conflict resolution. And the moment water was out of the equation everything was finished … For us it is becoming very paramount. We need to lobby very hard.”
Norman spoke about how water issues affect the children he works with through an inner-city nonprofit called Starz24:
“Our children are active and play, and get out there and outside. But the first things, when they come off the field, they got to get some water. They gotta go and rehydrate,” Norman said. “You think about it, water is so accessible, but then when it don’t become accessible, it changes everything that you think about a sport.”
Innovating fashion for water action
Tracy Reese, founder and creative director of Hope for Flowers in Detroit, Michigan, talked about reforming the fashion industry. According to the United Nations, the fashion industry uses 79 trillion liters of water annually and accounts for a fifth of the pollution in our global water systems.
“There is very little transparency in textile production for the typical purchaser,” Reese said. “When we are selecting textiles we are trying to pick things like organic linen, organic cotton but all of these still require quite a bit of water to produce. And the organisations and companies that have been set up to help identify which textiles cause the least harm and certify these textiles, it is challenging for small brands to work with them. There is a barrier to entry to accessibility.”
Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands, addresses the Opening Ceremony of the UN 2023 Water Conference. New York, USA, 22 March 2023.
“What kind of future do we want?”
That’s the question King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands asked.
“Anyone who asks their children that question will get a clear answer. Our young people want a fair, clean and sustainable world. A world that gives them the freedom to develop as individuals and discover who they are. A world where no one is left behind and a world where no one has to fear violence, want or oppression. If we listen to the voices of the young it is clear where we need to look for solutions.”
The UN Sustainable Development Goals will bring the world imagined by these young people closer, he said. “All over the world people are feeling the impacts. Climate change IS affecting our livelihoods our security and our health, our living environments, our future. The UN Agenda for 2030 demands that we all take more action to combat climate change.”
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands (right) and Emomali Rahmon President of Tajikistan (left) applaud next to children during the Opening Ceremony of the UN 2023 Water Conference, jointly hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan.
Three questions to consider:
- Why should the fashion industry care about water issues?
- How can football fans help in the effort to clean up polluted waters and provide people with access to water?
- Can you identify water problems that your community is trying to solve?
Enrique Shore is a News Decoder correspondent, photographer and pictures editor with three decades experience covering World Cups, Olympics, presidential elections, summits and the first Gulf War. He was Reuters chief photographer for Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, then based in Madrid in charge of the Iberian Peninsula. He later looked after media clients in Spain and Portugal. He is currently an independent photographer, editor and consultant based in New York.