From Davos Water in the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN

By Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

27 January 2014 See comments (7)

Peter Brabeck with Amina J. Mohammed
PANEL DISCUSSION: Peter Brabeck with Amina J. Mohammed.

After taking part in the panel session ‘Breaking Silos in Development’ last Thursday, we all walked down to the basement of the Davos Congress Center for a press conference. (The room was in one of those typical Swiss atomic shelters – and to be honest, not the most stimulating place at Davos!) Together with some other speakers from the session, we were invited to answer questions from press and other media.

Sitting next to me was Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria, Special Advisor of the UN Secretary General on Post-2015 Development Planning. She made it very clear that defining the post-2015 development agenda is a daunting, yet inspiring and historic, task for the United Nations and its Member States. And I agree with her: business as usual will not work for achieving the future we want.

All speakers stressed the need for co-operation across sectors and stakeholder groups. And as in the “Breaking Silos” session, I underlined the importance of multiple partnerships being properly aligned and selected according to goals set globally and nationally by intergovernmental and national authorities.

Here, for me water stands at the forefront: one single water goal within the post-2015 framework, with four main targets. I write about it here on the blog in some more detail than at the press conference, where I had to give shorter answers:

1) Universal access to safe (‘improved’) drinking water by 2025 at the latest, with a parallel focus on quality, moving from the improved water perspective to truly safe drinking water. Together with my second point below, this results directly from the principle that water and acceptable sanitation are a human right – not just as a declaration, but as a concrete commitment in the first place by governments.

2) Accelerate the provision of access to improved sanitation to at least 120 million additional people per year, aiming for universal access before 2050. Data on actual improvements achieved show that this is realistically possible; with further strengthened efforts political leaders might aim for even more ambitious targets.

3) Adequate treatment of all municipal and industrial wastewater prior to discharge by 2030. Best practice initiatives to reduce groundwater pollution by agricultural production (traditional, organic, etc.).

4) Finally, yet fundamentally, we must also address the water overdraft. Without changes in the way we are using water today, we risk shortfalls of up to 30% of global cereal production due to water scarcity by 2030. And, needless to say, the growing overdraft of freshwater also puts the supply of water for all other uses at risk, including those mentioned above. My proposed target, therefore, is that freshwater withdrawals (for all uses) must be brought into line with sustainable supply (natural renewal minus environmental flows; in individual watersheds and/or countries) by 2030.

I invite all of you, in your sphere of influence, to make politicians aware of these challenges and to encourage support. But we, like others, have also to contribute with action based on long-term thinking. I mentioned at the press conference Nestlé’s strategy of Creating Shared Value: We believe we can make an important contribution to society, by going a step beyond corporate social responsibility to create value through our core business, both for our shareholders and society. At Nestlé, in addition to water, we prioritise the areas of nutrition and rural development.

  1. Kamal MOHAMMEDI @ MESOnexusteam

    27 Jan 2014 - 21:11 (GMT)

    Dear Peter Brabeck-Letmathe,
    Thanks for your contribution with your water challenge blog to a more sustainable water ressources. i agree with your '' One single water goal within the post-2015 framework, with four main targets'' water management strategy. I think we must focus on the fourth target . We must change the human behaviors (water, food, energy, mineral ressouces,....) and in particular the water consumption profiles and models: Irrigation, Industry, Power generation, ......
    Can water be a human right where and when there is a lack of good governance?
    What about the climate change consequence on water ressources?


  2. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe @ Nestlé

    20 Feb 2014 - 17:48 (GMT)

    @Kamal MOHAMMEDI- Lecturer/researcher @ MESOnexusteam Dear Kamal, many thanks for the comment. Apologies for a late reply, I continued to be out of office after Davos. I agree, target 4 within the water goal should be on top; I had it in a different order because people need to be first reminded what water as a human right means not declarations on paper, but action where people have no access to safe water. On your question about climate change: according to the detailed IPCC 2007 report, there will be more rainfall, but not everywhere; and there are assumptions that it may not fall in small amounts over the year, but more often than before in the form of heavy precipitation within a short period. We will have to adapt to it with many forms of retention schemes; not only big dams, but also encouraging water harvesting measures and helping farmers to maintain and even increase the capacity and duration of surface water retention. Asian rice terraces, for instance, increase the capacity and duration of surface water retention and delay the onset of peak flooding from rainfall. I have often talked about a price from water, here; to the contrary, farmers should be paid for their environmental service. Regards, Peter.


  3. Lars Osterwalder @ South Pole Carbon, Addis Ababa

    29 Jan 2014 - 06:57 (GMT)

    In our experience, affordable, locally adapted water purification technologies on household and community level do exist and provide safe drinking water to the poorest of the poor in developing countries. The dissemination of such technologies not only improves public health but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions in countries where boiling drinking water is highly prevalent (e.g. in South-East Asia and East Africa). Such projects thus have a water-benefit, a health-benefit and a climate-benefit all at the same time.

    We have achieved some good results by quantifying and certifying the related emission reductions and selling the carbon credits on the international market. The performance-based revenue helps to accelerate the dissemination of technologies that proof to be effective and sustainable, and contributes to achieve universal access to safe drinking water.


  4. Renee Martin-Nagle @ Environmental Law Institute

    31 Jan 2014 - 03:57 (GMT)

    The four goals that are mentioned represent both the highest values of our human society as well as the minimum that should be considered acceptable -- universal access to safe drinking water, universal access to improved sanitation, adequate treatment of wastewater prior to discharge into the environment, and elimination of water overdraft. In fact, it seems that unless we achieve the latter two goals, universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation may be difficult if not impossible to accomplish. However, in order to achieve all four goals, we as a species must acknowledge and correct the root causes for the increasingly worrisome circumstances facing us. We have known for some time that the bulk of fresh water utilized for human purposes is absorbed by agriculture and energy. I agree with Mr. Mohammed that we must change human behavior, but changing patterns that are deeply engrained in our minds will require time, focused effort and, most importantly, common desire to evolve the accepted paradigms and behavioral patterns. The food and energy sectors have not shown a willingness to reduce water consumption unless motivated by local scarcity of the resource or by bottom line impacts of high tariffs. In our financial system, people and organizations respond most quickly to economic pressures, and only governmental policies on pricing for water resources can quickly and effectively create the kind of fundamental changes we want to see and need to have. Politicians must be made aware of the dire consequences that await further inaction, and they must have the courage to take actions that will doubtless be unpopular in the short term. We can only hope that their response to the water crises will be more rapid and decisive than their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.


  5. Mukdad Al-Khateeb @ Environment Research Center

    16 Apr 2014 - 20:44 (GMT)

    Dear Peter,
    No one denies the importance of Water, whether for living or development. The point is more related to the minds of the decision makers. For open minded decision makers, talking about the Health as a goal should encompass water as a target.
    Also, if Water is to be a Goal by itself, them Sustainable Water Management should also be recognized as a target.
    I strongly believe that the SDGs are rather a reflection of the governments' view to the future. The MDGs themselves were enough to guarantee a better future if were handled by SD experts rather than politicians.
    Unless monitored by the Specialists, Media, and Community, the SDGs will again fail to rescue our future generations.


  6. Ms. Abegail Reyes @ Professional/ International Master Program - University of Bologna

    17 Apr 2014 - 01:16 (GMT)

    Water resources become scarce in some regions and seasons, some countries may have more than enough surface and groundwater. However, the neglect of a coherent environmental policy in other countries led to the actual situation, in which the groundwater is contaminated.

    The main source of pollution is untreated domestic and industrial waste water. If I can cite my country: one third of Philippine river systems are considered suitable for public water supply. Besides severe health concerns, water pollution also leads to problems in the fishing and tourism industries and water pollution, often pinpoint as the main reason for flooding. The Philippine government recognized the problem and since 2004 has sought to introduce sustainable water resources development management.

    Despite several attempts to introduce a comprehensive institutional sector structure, overlapping responsibilities exist in many cases. On the other hand, this may be why the sector remains highly fragmented. Whether public or private laws, what's important is the implementation. No matter how good the framework or target appears, it would be non-sense if there's no proper coordination and strict and coherent implementation.


  7. Rafaele Joudry @ Atamai Eco Village

    29 Apr 2014 - 12:54 (GMT)

    After air, water is the most fundamental human need. Yet most people are very divorced from access and control of their water supply. Industrialization has removed us from natural land flows and from the source of our food supply so we are very vulnerable to civic, national and multi-national systems and trade arrangements to get our basic needs met.
    Wishing to step closer to natural resources, as supplied by nature, people wanting more local autonomy in both urban and rural settings are turning to Permaculture principles to help manage their local water flows. A great example of this is Atamai Village in New Zealand's Tasman region which is the first village designed from scratch along Permaculture principles. Catching and managing water flow using natural forces such as contours and gravity is one of the most important precepts of Permaculture and can enable us to gain up to forty uses of the same water flow on a site, and deliver clean, naturally filtered water to the next user down the hill. Permaculture principles can be applied in all climates.

Blog commenting form