Water dialogues: an exchange on Latin America and the Caribbean

More than 3,000 people from different social, economic and environmental sectors in the region registered for the virtual event to exchange on how to accelerate the implementation of SDG 6.

The initiative "Water Dialogues for accelerated and cross-sectoral implementation of SDG 6" carries out technical dialogues in different regions of the world, with the aim of collecting messages that will be presented at the High Level Global Meeting to be held in July 2021 in Bonn, Germany, to which all Member States and UN agencies will be invited to report on the results achieved.

To ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all in Latin America and the Caribbean, the virtual event was held on 29 April, with the aim of identifying actions needed to ensure the accelerated implementation of SDG 6. The event was co-organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); the Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme of UNESCO in Latin America and the Caribbean (IHP-LAC); the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature, Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU); and the National Water Commission of Mexico (CONAGUA).

The Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chile, H.E. Mr. Christian Hellbach; the Head of the Water and Energy Unit of ECLAC's Natural Resources Division, Ms. Rayen Quiroga; and the Director of UNESCO's Regional Bureau for Science for Latin America and the Caribbean, Ms. Lidia Brito; agreed during the opening ceremony on the importance of water as an essential resource and the need to ensure its future availability for sustainable development and the fulfilment of global agendas.

Ms. Janine Muzau of the BMU, pointed out that the needs to achieve SDG 6 are mainly related to capacity building, governance, data and information, financing and innovation.

To promote a sustainable water transition in the region, which seeks to guarantee the human right to water and sanitation, reverse negative externalities and commit to circular water management, Ms. Silvia Saravia Matus, Economic Affairs Officer of ECLAC's Natural Resources Division, emphasised the main challenges and proposals for action from the ECLAC perspective. To achieve this, it is necessary to reform the current systems of water governance, strengthening water authorities and coordinating management between different users. Water management must also be made more dynamic through instruments such as charges for use and fines for negative environmental impacts. Finally, investment and regulation policies should be promoted in the productive sectors that depend strategically on water to encourage the adoption of technologies that promote reuse and lead to more sustainable, resilient and productive water systems.

Mr. Abou Amani, Secretary of IHP referred to UNESCO's contribution to the International Decade for Action "Water for Sustainable Development 2018 - 2028". He stressed that the draft recommendation marks an essential step in the development of open science, to make science more inclusive, collaborative and innovative. This could help science to unlock its full potential and take on the challenges facing our contemporary societies, such as global warming, biodiversity degradation and the fight against pandemics. The Regional Hydrologist of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme in Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Miguel Doria, who also moderated the panel, highlighted this point in particular for the region.

The region possesses enormous treasures, including its traditions, ancestral knowledge, and a cross-sectoral platform with capacities to achieve SDG 6, the recent "Escazú Agreement", which entered into force recently and was sponsored by ECLAC. In reference to the lessons learned from the pandemic caused by COVID-19, Mr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation of the United Nations, made a call for reflection, noting that it has been possible to prohibit water cuts for vulnerable and/or poor families; therefore, it is necessary to make this action an urgent necessity.

Actors in water management

The main water challenges in the region and proposals to solve them, the different intersectorial actions that should be prioritised for the achievement of SDG 6, and the expectations of the mid-term evaluation of the International Decade for Action "Water for Sustainable Development 2018 - 2028", were presented by members of public, private and civil society institutions that work and depend strategically on water.

The dialogue made it possible to identify or highlight important elements, such as the strengthening of local and national governance systems; the use of innovative economic and financial instruments; the need for regulatory frameworks that promote public-private partnerships and encourage the mobilisation of investment; the importance of rescuing traditional knowledge and combining it with principles of circularity; all these proposals with the aim of contributing to sustainable water management.

Joining efforts for safely managed water, taking into account the stress suffered by small communities, is fundamental according to the Minister of Economic Growth and Job Creation of Jamaica, H.E. Mr. Aubyn Hill, who pointed out the need to focus on circular sustainability, the search for investment through public-private partnerships and technical assistance. In reference to vulnerable localities, the Head of the International Cooperation Management of CONAGUA of Mexico, Ms. Grisel Medina Laguna, reaffirmed the desire to lend in remote areas, prioritising an approach where human rights are a priority and investments are prioritised with equity criteria.

There is a need to strengthen public institutions, said the General Regulator of ARESEP of Costa Rica, Mr. Roberto Jimenez Gomez, as well as to integrate the economic value of water through different financial instruments that allow the compensation of negative externalities.

For his part, the Director of Operations and Circular Economy - Aguas Andinas of Chile, Mr. Daniel Tugues, confirmed that the decoupling of GDP with water consumption has not occurred, and that in times of drought, strategies aimed at the movement of investment and innovative solutions such as the circular economy (reuse, recirculation), and Nature Based Solutions are more urgent. She also stressed the importance of overcoming the challenges of inter-sectoral coordination and public-private partnerships, which still remain.

The Permanent Technical Secretariat of CODIA of Spain, through Ms. Concepción Marcuello Olona, highlighted the participatory work being done on the SDG 6 indicators and the importance of working under the framework of Integrated Water Resources Management, which will allow progress on the rest of the SDG 6 targets.