World countries to convene for UN Water Conference first time in over 40 years

The previous UN Water Conference took place 46 years ago. Antti Rautavaara, Special Envoy for Water at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, tells what the UN Water Conference to be held on 22–24 March 2023 is all about and how water issues are connected to security policy.

Antti Rautavaara, Special Envoy for Water at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Why is the UN Water Conference held?

Water is a prerequisite for all life and a common good for all of us. Access to water is also one of the key goals of sustainable development. Clean water and appropriate sanitation are important in terms of achieving the other Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to state representatives, a broad spectrum of other stakeholders, including civil society organisations, young people and groups of people with disabilities, had been invited to participate in the process to prepare the Water Conference.

One of the key outcomes will be the Water Action Agenda to be published at the end of the Conference. We will invite a wide range of parties to sign the commitments: businesses and communities from village committees to large Finnish companies.

What are the key issues for Finland at the Conference?

Finland and the African Union will co-organise a side event on water, security and peace in Africa.

The African continent has the fastest population growth in the world, but the available water resources will not be growing. Extreme weather events associated with climate change, such as heavy rains, drought and bushfires, are indications of severe disturbances in the hydrological cycle. In many African countries the management of water resources is a politically sensitive issue.

Water has been the backbone of Finland’s development cooperation. Development funding for the water sector has been decreasing for a long time, even though the needs have increased as climate change progresses and, indirectly, the impacts of water scarcity extend to us Finns as well.

With the growing frequency of disputes and conflicts related to water in different parts of the world, in Finland water is even more clearly seen as an integral part of the foreign and security policy instruments. Water is also a link, a force that brings us together and an enabler of equitable sustainable development.

How are water issues seen in Finland and globally?

Many people in Finland think that water issues are in order and that there is enough water. We have a long tradition in water expertise, but even Finns cannot afford to be complacent about water issues. Water must be taken into account when prioritising the values and resources in different policies.

The consumer choices we make in Finland have an impact on the global water scarcity. Water crosses national borders not only in oceans, rivers and the atmosphere but also in the products and services we use. Approximately 70 per cent of the water consumption in Finland takes place in the value chains of companies outside our national borders. Water is consumed in agriculture and food production and in the manufacture of everyday consumer goods such as electronic appliances. Most of our water footprint comes from the other parts of the world.

More than 180 of the world’s nations are in favour of an international governance system for the water sector. However, there are also tens of countries that have a negative attitude towards finding solutions at the international level, because they are located upstream and thus are in a more favourable position in terms of the transboundary waters.

Finland is among the trailblazers in promoting international rules for the just and reasonable use of water resources and transboundary water cooperation. Finland was a key player in the processes to prepare two global UN conventions: the UN Watercourses Convention adopted in 1997 and the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) of the UN Economic Commission for Europe adopted in 1992.

Additional information