World Water Day 2023

PSI is working with unions and allies to critique the absurd UN policies for most SDGs that suggest that we use public subsidies to ‘attract’ private capital.

The United Nations designated by 22 March as the day to celebrate water around the world. 2023 will see thousands flock to UN headquarters in New York for the first UN-wide water conference since the one in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1977. PSI will be there with affiliates FNV from the Netherlands, FNU from Brazil and DC37 from the USA. 


However, the UN Water Conference 2023 is a missed opportunity.  It lasts only three days.  It will not result in new policies based on a thorough review of past progress or failings.  Instead, the UN wants to see governments, businesses and NGOs make voluntary, non-binding commitments of actions they will carry out in order to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation – SDG6.  For example, agri-business giants might commit to reduce the amount they pollute water, or to help some communities close to their factories have better access to water. 

The main problem with SDG6 is the way to pay for improvements in water and sanitation infrastructure.  Many billions of people on the planet don’t have access to safe drinking water or sanitation services.  Existing water and sanitation infrastructure needs serious upgrading and improvements, both to extend services and ensure safety, but also to deal with the threats of the climate crisis.  More staff need to be hired, trained and retained, and their wages and working conditions improved.  Sanitation workers require major improvements, first moving from informal to formal employment, then reducing their massive health and safety risks. 

Our Water Justice Movement is committed to defend human rights, including by supporting public services,

All of this needs reliable, predictable long-term finance.  But the UN policies for most SDGs, including water, suggest that we use public subsidies to ‘attract’ private capital.  This implies that water services need to be made profitable enough to attract global finance capital.  Projects need to be ‘bankable’.  Countries must change their laws and regulations to provide the ‘enabling environment’ to protect private investors.  This ensures that the rights of investors dominate human rights or the rights of nature, including in the courts and in arbitrations.

PSI is working with unions and allies to critique these absurd policies.  Our Water Justice Movement is committed to defend human rights, including by supporting public services, as well as other community-based formats.  There is a common will to fight privatisation, which has a long list of structural problems that won’t go away with new wording, such as innovative or blended finance. 

Together, the Water Justice Movement published a Manifesto for release in New York.  The Manifesto contains a set of core principles and values that can guide our work for the decades to come.  Members of the Movement will participate in the debates in the UN, in side events and in a number of meetings around the city. 

The Movement will call for reform of the UN’s governance structures for the water sector.  Amongst others, we insist that the UN meet more often to resolve issues on water; that more community activists, trade unions, public water operators and mayors are involved in these meetings, and that industry and agro-business are held accountable for their uses and misuses of our precious water resources – voluntary measures are not enough.