Water is life. The successful implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) and its water-related targets is at the heart of the entire 2030 Agenda, and it will be crucial for its realization. Yet sustainable management of water and sanitation is currently under enormous pressure.
Water is also a threat to life. The toll of water-related disasters on lives and livelihoods has been immense, along with many other damaging short-term and long-term social and economic consequences. Unless action is taken soon, the combined effects of water-related disasters, climate change, growing populations and urbanization will negatively affect societies and economies in many regions, spur migration and spark conflict.
The issue of water, sanitation and disasters must be urgently addressed if we hope to make sustainable development a reality. Damages attributed to water-related disasters account for up to 15 to 40 per cent of annual gross domestic product for certain countries. Moreover, climate change has been exacerbating the extremes in hydro-meteorological events. Together with other global drivers under change, such as population growth, rapid urbanization and increased asset values, this may result in an increased frequency and greater impacts of water-related disasters.
Two fundamental challenges must be addressed with regard to water, sanitation and disasters: (a) provision of water and sanitation during and after disasters and emergencies, and (b) water-related disaster risk reduction. These are the two key issues that the High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP) has been discussing since its establishment in 2007. In my capacity as the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Water and as Chair of HELP, I have been working on these two core subjects for some years.
Water and sanitation provision systems are often severely impacted by the onslaught of disasters. Intakes and water treatment plants are flooded, and water pipes and canals are washed away. It takes a long time to remove mud and silt that bury plants and canals, paralyzing entire water systems for weeks and months. Earthquakes rupture joints of water and sewage pipes and can suspend water and sanitation services for thousands or even millions of people. Interruption of water and sanitation provision threatens the lives and livelihoods of a massive number of people. Societies experience shock due to outbreaks of diseases, social anxiety and political unrest.
All societies and countries must be prepared in order to avoid the worst of these...