UN Water Conference creates new envoy for water, needed to prioritize collaboration with frontline communities

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Tweet from Pedro Arrojo Agudo, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

A United Nations Water Conference was held in New York this past March 22-24.

Back in September 2022, Pedro Arrojo stated at the United Nations in Geneva (at 1:31:01): “To the indigenous peoples and social movements, like Peace Brigades International – so dear to me from the past, and so many other movements, let’s prepare the Social Water Forum, let’s prepare the Water conference in New York.”

Now, Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman report in The Guardian: “The first global water conference in almost half a century has concluded with the creation of a new UN envoy for water and hundreds of non-binding pledges that if fulfilled would edge the world towards universal access to clean water and sanitation.”

That article continues: “The three-day summit in New York spurred almost 700 commitments from local and national governments, non-profits and some businesses to a new Water Action Agenda, and progress on the hotchpotch of voluntary pledges will be monitored at future UN gatherings. A new scientific panel on water will also be created by the UN.”

“Almost 7,000 people attended the conference, but the private sector and global north were far better represented than experts and water insecure communities at the frontline of the water crisis from the global south – many of whom were excluded due to visa and financial barriers. Only a dozen or so world leaders attended the conference, and there were no protests and few activists to call out government and business hypocrisies.”

The article also notes: “The conference also failed to address the violence and threats faced by communities trying to protect dwindling water sources from mining, industrial agriculture and other polluting industries. “It is a very bureaucratic event where only large NGOs, governments and private companies could express themselves,” said Juan Gabriel Martinez, 34, a land and water defender from Manizales, Colombia, where the community is under attack by armed militias.”

Another article in The Guardian further reported: “About 6,700 delegates are attending the three-day event in New York, which is the first UN conference on water for 46 years – and only the second ever. Water has long been sidelined in international negotiations, despite its key role in climate, food and national security.”

And a third article in Guardian highlights: “At a simultaneous event organised by the People’s Water Forum, Meera Karunananthan, from the Blue Planet Project in Canada, said the emphasis on getting the private sector involved in the delivery of clean water and sanitation was “alarming” and ignored years of research about the harmful consequences of privatisation from around the world.”

That Peoples Water Forum endorsed a nine-point Water Justice Manifesto that concludes: “As human rights holders and water defenders, often criminalized and persecuted for defending human rights, we demand that the UN prioritize dialogue and collaboration with frontline communities in the implementation of SDG 6 including Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, those living in informal settlements, populations discriminated against on the basis of gender, descent and class, and all those who still do not have guaranteed access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”

Peace Brigades International accompanies numerous frontline water defenders in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

In October 2022, Arrojo met with PBI-Colombia accompanied frontline water defenders. For more on that, see PBI-Colombia, CREDHOS and National Network of Artisanal Fishermen in conversation with UN Special Rapporteur on Water.

Three recent PBI accompaniments of water defenders include:

We will continue to look for the intersections between the frontline communities we accompany and international gatherings that advance the human right to water and the protection of water defenders.

#PBIaccompanies #waterjustice #EHRDs

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