Created by then-SG Kofi Annan in 2004 to advance water-related Millennium Development Goal targets, the elite 21-member UNSGAB -- which includes OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria -- warns that today's institutional infrastructure requires a major upgrade for the world to possibly meet water and sanitation-related objectives in the 2030 Agenda -- the new "Sustainable Development Goals" adopted by UN Member States this year for achievement by 2030.
"There is currently a mismatch between the integrated and ambitious 2030 vision of freshwater and sanitation management and the international political structures available to contribute to its implementation," says the report, presented by UNSGAB Chair Uschi Eid to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters, New York.
The proposed body would be the world's preeminent sphere for reaching consensus on common water and sanitation concerns, and to assess progress. It would closely involve the private sector and other major stakeholders, supported by both a secretariat (UN-Water) and a panel of independent experts mandated to amass authoritative information on water and sanitation issues and stimulate research to fill knowledge gaps. It would inform international decision-making "in a balanced, fact-based, transparent and comprehensive way."
Objective monitoring of progress towards world water targets for 2030 would complement the effort, as would a new independent Board to the Secretary-General to succeed UNSGAB.
Also called for: A Heads of State Panel on Water to champion and lead global advocacy around critical issues.
Blunt valedictory report: Designate sanitation a medical issue
The Board's valedictory report underlines that water, sanitation and hygiene are central to human health and contains blunt messaging with the constructive intent of enhancing the UN's handling of water issues, which have been accorded newly elevated status within the world body.
"Considering that a lot of UN organizations are dealing with water but only as a marginal issue, nothing less than a full-scale water-cultural revolution within the UN is needed," the report says.
"Relevant UN organizations need to allocate (more) core funding to water and need to review their policies. It is, for example, high time that WHO endorsed water, sanitation and hygiene as primary prevention."
Noting "persistent and serious data inconsistencies in water-related UN communications," the Board says a 2012 claim that the global goal for safe drinking water goal had been met was underpinned by the wrong assumption that all "improved" water sources provide safe, uncontaminated water.
UNSGAB points out "there is a difference between a drinking water source that is only 'improved' and drinking water that is truly safe."
"In many quarters, the correction has been made: safe means safe, that is, uncontaminated. However, in too many others, including official UN statements, the fallacy persists and the global need for safe drinking water is thus seriously underestimated."
The UNSGAB report also calls for global-level UN data to better illuminate back-sliding in access to water and sanitation services in cities: "the global regression seen today in urban areas is not currently being explicitly reported."
Says UNSGAB Chair Uschi Eid: "Certainly, a lot has been accomplished, but the bucket of water challenges to be solved remains quite full."
"With the benefit of 11 years of perspective, our Board's distinguished members offer recommendations for global action and institutional reform, together with advice on how future independent advisory boards may organize for maximum impact."
Clustering comments around seven themes, the report details the efforts and accomplishments of the Board and other international actors, along with insights and recommendations on future strategies and actions.
1: Build attention to water: create the will to act now and in the future
Water continues to be undervalued and badly managed. The symptoms of lack of attention can be seen everywhere.
Most countries do not adequately monitor either the quantity or the quality of water resources and wastewater in particular, and the monitoring of sanitation and drinking water also remains a challenge.
Too many countries respond to water-related disaster emergencies but do not integrate water risks in development planning.
Water is distressingly under financed compared to other types of infrastructure.
Lack of adequate access to drinking water and sanitation plagues billions of people, especially the poorest.
2: Drinking Water: More. Managed. Monitored. Made safe
Safe should mean safe. To end confusion, the UN, governments and other relevant actors should only use the term 'safe drinking water' when they mean uncontaminated drinking water.
To achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, efforts to expand drinking water services must urgently be stepped up. For this, governments must fast-track institutional reforms, boost funding, eliminate corruption and strengthen capacities in their water services sectors.
Organize and reinforce national and global monitoring of drinking water quality.
WHO, UNICEF and UN-Habitat should make efforts to ensure that the global regression in access to drinking water (and sanitation) in urban areas is better reported.
4: Push for increased and improved financial flows
Increased priority to the water and sanitation services sector as well as water resources management in national budgets.
At country level, secure additional financial resources of all kinds, including user fees and public budgets ... find the blend of tariffs, taxes, and transfers that ensures the financial viability of all utilities to provide improved services.
Encourage better knowledge of country-wide expenditures on water.
Facilitate achievement of all water-related SDG targets by thoroughly estimating related economic costs and benefits.
In the water sector, make more efforts to apply for and use funds available for climate change adaptation (and mitigation) measures.
5: Catalyze better water resources management -- Integrated water resources management and the Nexus Approach (which recognizes the interrelationships between water, energy and food systems) within and between countries, across sectors
More emphasis must be given to the reality that water scarcity, water pollution and deterioration of water-related ecosystems pose a threat to global sustainable development.
Follow the imperative for integrated management in agriculture, industry, cities, watersheds, and public health and disaster risks.
Implement the Nexus (the intersection of water, energy and food issues) Approach at scale to enhance cross-sectoral policy making at the global level. Begin by strengthening the scientific basis through more dedicated research. Share lessons learned from successful Nexus interventions in the growing number of regions that are experimenting with this approach. Promote the Nexus Approach both top-down, by anchoring it in policy and ensuring top-level commitment, and bottom-up, through concrete projects.