The UN 2023 Water Conference – formally known as the 2023 Conference for the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation (2018-2028) – will take place at UN Headquarters in New York, 22-24 March 2023, co-hosted by Tajikistan and the Netherlands.

The conference will include an opening and closing session, six plenary sessions, and five interactive dialogues (Water for Health; Water for Sustainable Development; Water for Climate, Resilience and Environment; Water for Cooperation; Water Action Decade), as well as side events organized by participants. It will result in a summary of proceedings from the UNGA President that will feed into the 2023 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and the launch of the to turn the political momentum of the Conference into tangible and ambitious action to get progress on track. 

The UN Water Conference and the Water Action Agenda is an opportunity to mobilize all stakeholders to work towards reducing existential threats linked to water access and achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without any discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need, including migrants and displaced persons.

Human mobility at the UN Water Conference

Water is both a resource ; and when unsustainably managed, when polluted, when contributing to disasters, it can also be a threat and will continue to impact millions. Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, as per SDG 6, is among the most basic human needs for health and well-being for all people, including migrants and displaced persons. People on the move find themselves at the heart of the water and sanitation crisis, exacerbated by climate change. At the same time, disasters, climate change and environmental degradation are reshaping both patterns of water availability and human mobility patterns through change in rainfall patterns, droughts, floods, glacial retreat or sea-level rise. 

  • In the past decade, floods contributed to over 100 million internal displacements worldwide, accounting for almost half of all weather-related displacements.
  • On the other hand, droughts contributed to significant mobility, accounting for 2.6 million internal displacements worldwide over the past decade.
  • Two billion people currently live without access to safe water and approximately half of the world’s population experiences severe water scarcity for at least some part of the year due to climatic and non-climatic drivers.

Migrants are also some of the most vulnerable groups to extreme weather events, given that they often rely on less durable infrastructure and are exposed to frequent disruptions to critical services such as health and agriculture which further undermine humanitarian efforts to reach sustainable solutions. Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for migrants is a critical component of achieving SDG 6. This is especially important for women and girls who require effective menstrual hygiene management to maintain their safety and dignity. Effective management of human mobility, including addressing root causes of migration, is therefore essential to fulfill the human right to water and sanitation for all.

The importance of the inclusion of human mobility and water in the context of disasters, climate change and environmental degradation aligns with the recommendations related to human mobility part of the 2023 Praia’s Call for Action and the 2022 Dakar Declaration. It also follows engagement in workstreams of the UN-Water, in the development of the World Water Development Report, in the Water Scarcity in Agriculture (WASAG)’s Migration Working Group, in the World Water Forum, in the Dushanbe Water Process and at UNFCCC COP27. 

IOM Key Messages 

Ahead of the UN Water Conference, IOM calls on all stakeholders and parties to:

  1. Ensure that the linkages between human mobility and water in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters – including integrated water resources management –are recognized and incorporated into local, national, regional and transnational and global relevant water, climate response and adaptation, and migration and displacement policies with whole-of government approaches, in line with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the Global Compact for Migration, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN Secretary-General's Action Agenda on Internal Displacement.
  2. When averting, minimizing and addressing Loss and Damage linked to water resources, mobilize action and financial resources that strengthen people’s resilience and adaptability in the context of mobility decision-making. This should be based on a comprehensive and contextual approach based on the linkages between human mobility and water in the context of climate change, environmental degradation, disasters and/or conflict. Such comprehensive approach includes solutions for people to stay, for people to move and for people on the move: through, inter alia, addressing the impacts of water extremes on migrants and displaced populations while ensuring sustainable water management when finding durable solutions to displacement; migration as an adaptation strategy as a response to losses and damages on water resources; and adaptation interventions and innovative, sustainable and cooperative water resources management to either allow people to stay in situ or move with dignity.
  3. Build resilience to future shocks and stressors, by providing tangible Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services that go beyond basic needs. This includes services related to governance, institutional capacity building, environmental protection, job creation, and conflict resolution. Sustainable WASH is not only life-saving but is critical to achieving broader sustainable development goals, ensuring effective adaptation to climate change while ensuring stability and peace in line with the Humanitarian-Development- Peace Nexus.
  4. Follow the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) to ensure sustainable water access when providing WASH services. Using the above Nexus approach, addressing WASH and other humanitarian needs means looking beyond short-term humanitarian responses and ensuring that development deficits are identified and addressed. By linking with localized approaches in resilience, WASH services can work with and build upon the capacities, processes, and practices that already exist within communities.
  5. Apply a whole-of-society approach that looks to reduce vulnerabilities people face and empower people as agents of change. There is an opportunity to tap into the significant potential of community resilience and human mobility – when well-managed and people-centred – to support innovative and sustainable water resources management. Empowered communities, diaspora groups, migrants and displaced persons, returning migrants and others can foster the transfer of skills, know-how, technology and investments to support water infrastructure as well as innovation for water-use efficiency solutions.

Migration, Environment, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Events at the UN Water Conference

Title  Organizer(s)  Location  Date and time 
Towards Climate-Resilient Development: Integrating Climate Mobility into Strategies for Water Security & Achieving SDG 6  GCCM-ACMI (lead), IOM, UNOPS, Deltares, Uganda   Outside UNHQ – UNOPS New York Offices, 155 East 44th Street, 14th Floor (and online)  22 March, 10:00-11:30 EST 
Towards Concrete Action for Water:  Enhancing Cooperation on the Migration, Climate Change and Water Nexus  IOM (lead), the World Bank (co-lead)  Outside UNHQ – Japan Society (and online) 22 March, 13:15-14:30 EST 
Water Extremes at the Feet of Displaced People: Averting, Minimising and Addressing Loss & Damage  IOM (lead), OHRLLS, co-sponsored by Portugal, Malta, EU, UAE   Inside UNHQ – Side Event Room C  22 March, 14:00-15:15 EST 
Leaving No One Behind: Achieving the SDGs in Humanitarian Settings  Switzerland (lead), UNICEF, GWC, UNHCR, GWH, ICRC, WBG, IOM  Inside UNHQ – Side Event Room 9  23 March, 08:00-09:15 EST 

Reforms, stakeholder engagement, and innovation in water sector to accelerate SDG achievement through transformative actions in Azerbaijan 

Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ministries of Agriculture, Ecology and Natural Resources, and Economy, Amelioration and Water Farm OSJC, Azersu OJSC, FAO-Azerbaijan, IOM Azerbaijan Academia: Arizona State Universit Inside UNHQ – Conference Room 9 24 of March, 08:00-9:15 EST 
WASH Sector Capacity and Funding; Humanitarian WASH Roadmap Call to Action to Governments    CAF (lead), IOM, Action contre la Faim, French Water Partnership, Bangladesh, USA, Indonesia, Solidarites Internationales, UN-Water, World Water Council  Outside UNHQ - Church Center, 11th Floor, 777 United Nations Plaza  24 of March, 08:30-9:45 EST 
Uganda’s Response to Conflict and Climate Change Induced Migration through Improved Water Services and Water Security  Uganda (lead), IOM Uganda, UNHCR, Stitching Deltares, Netherlands, UNICEF, GIZ, Water for people Uganda  Inside UNHQ – Side Event Room 6  24 March, 14:00-15:15 EST