Building a Water-Secure World

I am in New York this week for the first UN Water Conference in nearly 50 years. Fifty years in which our scientific understanding of the earth’s water resources has expanded and deepened dramatically. And 50 years in which global water issues have become more pressing and profound.  This week’s United Nations Water Conference in New York is urgent and long overdue.

Billions of people around the world still lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene .  Water supplies are increasingly scarce and unpredictable, and the lack of safe water poses enormous risks to human health and wellbeing.

Alongside this chronic lack of access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation, communities around the world are being devastated by floods and droughts linked to the climate crisis.  Here in the United States, we are seeing both floods and droughts.

For example, the last three years in California were the driest in recorded history – withering crops, endangering drinking water supplies, and intensifying wildfires.  As of last week, this drought has been followed, but not entirely relieved, by destructive flooding, with more than half of California’s 58 counties under a state of emergency.

And, of course, similar natural disasters are taking place around the world.  I just returned from Pakistan where I was able to see firsthand the tragic impacts of last year’s floods which submerged nearly a third of the country.

And so, this year’s UN Water Conference is taking place at a critical moment. I am glad to have the opportunity to be here, to focus on the use, value, and protection of freshwater.  The work before us is enormous.

On Wednesday, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced U.S. commitments of more than $49 billion to ensure that climate-resilient water and sanitation remain a priority at home and around the world.  These announcements build upon President Biden’s once-in-a-generation commitment to eliminating lead pipes and delivering clean drinking water to all Americans through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and in the White House Action Plan on Global Water Security.

The international community, together, must put water at the forefront of the agenda. Water is the connector of all the sustainable development goals, and the vector by which we feel and see the effects of climate change.  That is why I am joining the call for the UN to appoint a Special Envoy for Water this year.  We need another strong voice to champion water issues across sectors and platforms.

I sincerely hope that we do not need to wait another 50 years for the next UN Water Conference.  I am excited by the progress we are making this week, and the United States intends to ensure it continues.

About the Author: Monica P. Medina was confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs on September 28, 2021.