In March 2023, the United Nations hosted the UN Water Conference (UNWC) – the first since 1977. There, we engaged with governments and the private sector on the vital importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

What is the UNWC?

Starting on World Water Day, the conference brought together governments and stakeholders from a multitude of sectors to identify the obstacles to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation, and consider the opportunities and innovative ways to accelerate progress towards it.

WASH is only one part of this conference, so we highlighted how it links to other key conversations around water such as agriculture, food security, health and wider water management.

The UNWC was an opportunity for stakeholders across all sectors to submit voluntary commitments to the Water Action Agenda, which constituted the key outcome document of the conference. The Water Action Agenda will then feed into the High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development, to be held in July.

What were our goals for UNWC?

Water security, sanitation and hygiene underlie global, national and household resilience. They transform economies, agriculture and nutrition, public health, gender equality and the environment.

In line with our new Global Strategy, we used the UNWC as an opportunity to embed WASH solutions to tackling the ever-increasing threat of climate change and the growing impacts of water-related disasters and economic challenges.

What did WaterAid do at UNWC?

UN Headquarters side event: Water security and sanitation for resilience across the SDGs

On 22 March, we co-hosted an official side event at the headquarters of the United Nations, alongside the US government, on water security and sanitation for resilience scross the SDGs. The event highlighted how water security, sanitation and hygiene underlie global, national and household resilience, transforming economies, agriculture and nutrition, public health, gender equality and the environment.

Our side event featured high-level speakers from the governments of Malawi and Bangladesh, the African Development Bank, the World Food Programme, the World Meteorological Association, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the EU Joint Research Commission and Diageo.

WaterAid, the Resilient Water Accelerator and End Water Poverty also led on the following side events:

"Women as change makers" cocktail reception, bringing together corporate stakeholders to celebrate the central role of women as leaders in achieving SDG6 and encourage action, with speakers from Diageo, Coca-Cola and WaterAid.

The Resilient Water Accelerator side event co-chaired by Zac Goldsmith, the UK Minister of State for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment. The event brought together the broad water sector and investors to accelerate investment in water supply in low- and middle-income countries.

End Water Poverty side event: "Hearing the Unheard: Human Rights to Water and Sanitation" led by the Government of South Africa with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur, 15 CSO and network partners amplifying the voices of groups facing marginalisation and engaging responses from national and local government and the UN.

"Achieving SDG 6 through a gender lens on climate change and youth and global goals for menstrual health and hygiene". Without clear international and national goals, menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) will remain a low priority and progress will continue to be fragmented at best. In this session, a wide range of stakeholders from the WASH and MHH spaces came together to catalyse progress towards a world in which no one is held back because of their period. 

To show the need for policy reform to countries and partners at the UNWC, we co-organised a further side event with APAA/PASA, WHO, SNV, Sustainable Sanitation Alliance, International Labour Organization, World Bank Group and UN Habitat:

"SDG 6.2 – A pipe dream without a professional sanitation workforce". We also held a multimedia exhibition of portraits of workers, alongside narrations of their own stories and experiences. Explore the virtual immersive version.

Find us on Twitter

Engage on social media and join the conversation on our Twitter page.

Media contacts

For media queries related to the UN Water Conference please get in touch with our Senior Media Officers, Lisa and Safeeyah.

Communications tools

Use our communications toolkit