Eleven Ministers and deputies of Water, Natural Resources, Climate or Foreign Affairs participated in the 1st Water Science-Policy Colloquium (SPIC Water) at UNESCO Headquarters on 14 June 2018, together with representatives of Member States and water experts. The Colloquium was an opportunity to take stock of the progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on Water and Sanitation (SDG6). It was organized at the request of Member States to discuss how UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) can help to identify science-based solutions, effective policies and practices on water and sanitation, and support countries in their efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda. The Science-Policy Dialogue was opened by Ms Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, H.E. Ms. Zohour Alaoui, President of the General Conference of UNESCO, and H.E. Mr Lee Byong Hyun, Chairperson of UNESCO’s Executive Board. It was organized in the framework of the 23rd session of IHP’s Intergovernmental Council.
“I would like to thank you for your presence, which demonstrates the commitment made at the highest level to address a fundamental issue that relates to ecology, development, human rights, security, and especially our ability to live in peace” said Audrey Azoulay. “We are pleased to welcome Ministers of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Infrastructure, Climate, Foreign Affairs, and this diversity of responsibilities and ministerial perimeters shows that the sustainable management of water resources is a major political issue.”
She recalled that clean and accessible water is essential for the eradication of poverty, hence the need to address water-related challenges in achieving Agenda 2030. This implies a dialogue at the international level, as no country can tackle water challenges alone. She thanked UN-Water for its efforts, especially in the implementation of the Synthesis Report on SDG 6, which will be presented in New York during the High Level Political Forum.
The Director-General also pointed out that the holistic Water Conference to be organized at UNESCO in May 2019 and this Ministerial Conference testify to the importance granted to water by UNESCO, noting that it would be desirable to sustain the Ministerial Conference in the framework of the IHP Councils. She finally recalled the intergovernmental dimension of IHP, which is the only intergovernmental structure of the United Nations system devoted to research, capacity building and water resources management. Since no ‘one size fits all’ technical solution nor a single, definitive policy solution exists, she concluded that sharing lessons learned is vital: the raison d’être of the colloquium, which is the first of a series to come.
The President of the General Conference referred to the water security challenges faced by nations and praised UNESCO-IHP for its work centred on the 2030 Agenda and SDG 6, as well as other international goals. She recalled the Ministerial declaration of the 8th World Water Forum that renewed and strengthened the political commitment for immediate and effective actions to implement the SDG, as well as the new International Decade for Action on “Water for Sustainable Development”, which will support cooperation, partnerships, and capacity development. She spoke of the common challenges of overcoming barriers in the implementation activities for SDG 6. She called for sustained joined efforts, combining political and scientific capacities to concretize ambitions related to the SDGs, pragmatically and shared.
The Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO expressed his support to dialogues such as SPIC Water, where high-level policy-makers exchange with technical experts, calling the Colloquium a “living action by UNESCO as a specialized UN agency in the area of water, facilitating platforms for information sharing between Member States and scientists”. He stated that for proper freshwater management, the international community needed to apply science-based solutions, which are sensitive to societal and environmental constraints. He concluded that while major international forums such as the World Water Forum and High-level Political Forum are extremely important, keeping the scientific dialogue alive between the global events was crucial. In this regard, he commended UNESCO IHP for the initiative to organize SPIC Water.
The Ministerial messages highlighted that the 2030 Agenda is promoting local action and positive changes in institutions at the country level. However, the sustainability of actions remain a challenge. They also noted the need to harmonize activities and policies at the global, regional and local level and to adapt targets to local context. All underlined the need for reinforced human capacity if the 2030 Agenda was to be implemented in the domain of water. They welcomed the existence of a forum like SPIC Water, where policy-makers could exchange viewpoints with experts, who provide the knowledge and information needed to adapt policies based on available knowledge.
The IHP Council decided to continue organizing high level dialogues like SPIC Water biannually within the framework of its Intergovernmental session, to enhance the science-policy interface and facilitate the development and implementation of sound policies.