UNESCO’s contribution to sustainability

Development Policy07 Mar 2013Zelmira May

UNESCO can play a vital role in guaranteeing a focus on sustainability and interrelated water challenges in the formulation of the post-2015 development agenda. 

Freshwater is vital for human health and security and is therefore crucial for sustainable human development. Moreover, water has a definite objective under the MDGs and is part of the post-2015 sustainable developments goals. Notwithstanding, there is a crucial need to exceed the previous MDG target of halving the percentage of population without sustainable access to safe drinking water, by understanding the ecological impacts not only of water projects but also of industrial water use and irrigation.

To date, one of the most important global drivers that will significantly change water-related risks in the near future is population growth, which will increase demand for water across its multiple uses. This steady increase in the world’s population only exacerbates the risks arising from other drivers that impact on water resources, such as land-use changes, urbanization, energy issues, and food production. These challenges are also applicable to the Latin America and the Caribbean region, where many of the largest cities of the world are located. In addition, predicted global climate change only poses additional pressure on water availability.

The current 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation lead by UNESCO constitutes an opportunity for raising awareness of both the potential for increased cooperation and the challenges facing water management. Cooperation between social and cultural groups, economic sectors, governments, and countries is essential to strike a balance between different needs and priorities, to ensure sound water management and achieve its sustainable and equitable use. Moreover, water can lead to peace by fostering relations between people and nations, can help eradicate poverty and increase social equity, generate economic benefits, and help protect the environment. The Year will aim at highlighting the history of successful water cooperation initiatives, as well as identify burning issues on water education, water diplomacy, transboundary water management, financing cooperation, national/international legal frameworks, and the linkages with the Millennium Development Goals. It will also provide an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum created by the Rio+20 Conference, and to support the formulation of new objectives that will contribute towards developing water resources that are truly sustainable.

As part of post-2015 development agenda, UNESCO can lead the way in developing national and regional plans to achieve community resilience for water security by fostering innovation and the contributions of the sciences. The main aim of UNESCO’s strategic plan – corresponding to the 8th phase of the IHP – is to enhance water security in response to local, regional and global challenges, dealing with all the complex and rapid environmental and demographical changes, promoting the process of transformation of information and experience, and building competences to meet the challenges of today’s global water challenges. It is essential to establish knowledge platforms where all the different entities can exchange and share the decision-making to address water security challenges.

Since water security depends largely on adequate policies based on sound scientific knowledge, the role of UNESCO in achieving water security might become of utmost relevance by providing advice to its member states. Moreover, UNESCO’s involvement can be the key in the development of capacities at multiple levels, including human and institutional ones. The value added of UNESCO, provided its multiplicity of views arising from its mandates in the field of science (natural and human), culture, and education, will pave the way towards the post-2015 agenda and the achievement of water security for sustainability.