The United Nations’ first water conference in nearly fifty years begins in New York on Wednesday. During his opening speech on behalf of the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander emphasizes the importance of good water management. What else can we expect?
The UN headquarters in New York is dedicated to water for three days. Delegations from nearly two hundred countries are present to better regulate the use of water. Together with Tajikistan, the Netherlands is the host country of the congress.
At first glance, it seems like a wonderful combination: the Netherlands, a land of water, which, together with mountain land of Tajikistan, has set up an important UN conference. According to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W), the Netherlands did not choose to cooperate with the Central Asian country.
“From the UN came the request to countries to hold a water conference. We and Tajikistan raised our hands, then we were given the opportunity to work together,” said a spokesman for the ministry. According to her, both countries can learn a lot from each other.
“In Tajikistan you will find glaciers and rivers that rise, in our country rivers flow into the sea. They suffer from drought in the valleys, how do they deal with it? We can learn from that. Conversely, to give an example, we can tell you a lot about making clean drinking water. But the main thing is that we make this conference a success together.”
King Willem-Alexander will open the three-day water congress on Wednesday afternoon together with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. This Rahmon rules the country with a heavy hand. Is it really that handy that the king is on a podium with him?
In Fidelity human rights organizations such as the Helsinki Committee strongly criticize the joint actions of the king and the authoritarian president Rahmon. According to the committee, Willem-Alexander should not be put in this position. Minister Harbers agrees Fidelity that the Netherlands does not agree in advance with everything that is happening in Tajikistan.
“It is a country where you can really have concerns about the human rights situation and we want to have that conversation. But it is our joint task to ensure that this conference is a success.” During the state visit of the royal couple to Slovakia, Willem-Alexander called the presidency another great opportunity, because it is shared with a completely different country.
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What is the purpose of the conference?
Almost all countries in the world have problems with water. Whether it concerns floods or extreme drought. And worldwide, 884 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. This water supply is also coming under increasing pressure due to waste, pollution and climate change.
The UN conference should contribute to achieving international agreements in the field of water and accelerate this process. Main themes are drinking water, drought and flooding. The purpose of the three-day conference is that countries exchange information with each other and make plans, for example, to keep drinking water clean and available, to retain water (for longer) and to better protect ourselves against water.
According to Arjan Budding, program leader for sustainable water management at Wageningen University (WUR), expectations are high. “We see that proper use of water is becoming increasingly important, it is actually quite special that it has taken so long before a second UN conference is devoted to it.”
What are the main ‘water problems’ for the Netherlands?
Budding: ,,We often have to deal with dry periods. The credo used to be: drain excess water to the sea as quickly as possible. But now it is important to retain as much water as possible for those dry times. That we have enough drinking water all year round. And how do we bring enough water to, for example, dry sandy soils? What consequences does this have for our agricultural sector, can we continue to grow all crops in the future or should we opt for crops that require less water? We are present with WUR to gather information and knowledge and, of course, also to share our expertise with international delegations.”
According to Budding, the necessary steps must also be taken at an international level. “Think of a river like the Rhine. If less water flows through it, this will have major consequences for the water level in our country. The Netherlands will have to talk to Germany and Switzerland about the distribution of water that is becoming scarcer. Globally, the drying up of rivers is a major problem, how will all mouths be fed if less water flows through the fertile deltas of the Himalayas or the Euphrates and Tigris? New York is now the place to discuss such challenges with affected countries.”
Are concrete agreements made during the conference?
The program includes a so-called water action agenda. Each delegation can make a commitment in this agenda. “To make it concrete: Kenya can indicate that the country will build extra sanitary facilities for girls’ schools in the coming years. Such a commitment is not optional. Under the coordination of the UN, it is checked whether the projects are actually being carried out,” said the I&W spokesperson. The Dutch commitments will be announced on Friday. It has already been made clear in advance that agreements on sea level rise will be linked to the climate conference (COP28) that will be held in Dubai later this year.
That we in the Netherlands can get a clean glass of water from the tap is actually a miracle (video):
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