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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : The takeaways from the UN World Water Conference


Source: The Hindu


  • Prelims: Current events of national and international importance(Ground water, world Bank, UN Water Conference, SDG-6, WASH, Jal Shakti Abhiyan, etc
  • Mains GS Paper II & III: Geographical features and their locations- change in critical geographical features etc



  • The World Water Conference that was convened by the United Nations (March 22-24 2023) was the first UN conference on freshwater in almost 50 years.





  • Groundwater is the water present below the earth’s surface and is a vast resource of water.
  • Almost 22 percent of water is below the surface land in the form of groundwater.
  • World Bank report: India is the largest groundwater user.


Importance of Groundwater:

  • Groundwater is the backbone of India’s agriculture and drinking water security in rural and urban areas
  • It meets nearly 80% of the country’s drinking water and two-thirds of its irrigation needs.
  • Groundwater is pivotal to India’s water security.


UN Water Conference on freshwater:

  • It was held in the context of serious environmental issues — flooding, drought, severity of climate change and a looming food crisis.
  • The conference marked a mid-term review of the Water Action Decade 2018-2028
    • Advance the water agenda by energizing existing programmes and projects
    • Inspiring water action to achieve the 2030 Agenda, in particular Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), which envisages the sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.


Outcome of the Conference:

  • The central outcome of the conference was the international Water Action Agenda, to which governments, multilateral institutions, businesses, and non-governmental organizations submitted over 670 commitments to address water security issues.
  • Nearly 164 governments and 75 multilateral organizations have made commitments.
  • The commitments embodied in the Water Action Agenda are voluntary and, therefore, legally non-binding
  • The voluntary commitments are expected to inspire the collective political will, which is needed to address the many water challenges.


Finances and water services:

  • Meeting this target by 2030 (as envisioned by the SDG): It will incur capital expenditures of $114 billion per year.
  • The World Bank estimates recurring operations and maintenance for basic water and sanitation service (WASH) costs to rise from about $4 billion to over $30 billion per year by 2030



  • The World Resources Institute (WRI): The commitments made by the states reflected rigor, scope, and ambition but they lacked proper finance and targets that are quantifiable in nature.
  • Investment of this range would require valuing water, which in turn requires robust water measurement and accounting.
  • There are serious limitations in our knowledge about the volume, flux and quality of water in lakes, rivers, soils and aquifers.
  • There are huge gaps in water usage data.
    • The metering of water has triggered resistance from India to Ireland because of concerns about equitable access and affordability of water services’.
  • Funding from regional, national, and international sources prioritizes new water infrastructure rather than on water maintenance services (World Bank study).
    • It results in decreased service for water customers.
  • The World Bank estimates project recurring operations and maintenance service (WASH) costs to rise from about $4 billion to over $30 billion per year by 2030, which is far more than the capital costs for basic WASH services.
  • Water does not qualify to be a global public goods as it is not considered to be an area of urgent funding as compared to climate change.


India’s commitments at the conference:

  • An investment of $240 billion in the water sector and efforts to restore groundwater level.


Groundwater in India:

  • CAG report(2021): It says that groundwater extraction in India increased from 58% to 63% between 2004-17.
  • This has been further exacerbated by climate change resulting in intermittent rainfall, which further undermines the recharge potential.
  • The revised Groundwater Bill 2017 vests State groundwater boards with creating laws, managing water allocation and other relevant issues.
  • The State boards are understaffed, and lack expertise and prioritizing socio-political conflicts over groundwater resources.


Legally binding instruments on regulation of trans-boundary river water courses:

  • UN Water Convention 1997
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Water Convention 1992


Way Forward

  • The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the only international funding mechanism that has been able to cover more than 300 watersheds and an even greater number of aquifers across the political boundaries of two or more states with its grant and concessional loan.
  • In international law, states possess the authority to make voluntary commitments to address issues of global concern.
    • They are generally independent of the commitments of other parties’.
  • Efforts to tackle climate change and to promote environmental sustainability have led states to make voluntary commitments to curb greenhouse gasses and to take measures to promote sustainability, even in the absence of a legally non-binding instrument.
  • In the case of climate change, these voluntary commitments take place within a broader context of binding agreements:
    • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
    • Kyoto Protocol
    • Paris Agreement’.
  • The 2023 Water Conference takes place within the context of SDG 6, and not within the context of the
  • The target embodied in 6.5 of the SDG 6 focusing on ‘implementation of integrated water resources management (IWRM) at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate’ is a common thread between the Water Conference and the two conventions.



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