Youth welcomed with ‘open arms’ to UN water conference
Young people have a seat at the upcoming United Nations Water Conference and hope their presence will be a catalyst for youth priorities.
“Young people will be directly affected by water problems and issues, but they are also the ones who can implement the solutions to solve these problems,” said Sarah Dousse, executive director of the International Secretariat for Water (ISW). Decision-makers need to understand youth are vital participants on conference panels and in discussions, she added.
The conference, set to take place in New York from March 22 to 24, is the first in almost 50 years solely devoted to creating a water action agenda. It aims to address the “alarmingly off-track” progress on water-related goals and targets that are “jeopardizing the entire sustainable development agenda,” the United Nations wrote on its website.
The conference is a unique opportunity to solve the world’s water problems, said Dousse, 36. “The 21st century will be blue or there won't be any other centuries for the generations to come,” Dousse said.
After the UN put out a call for more youth representation, the Global Youth Movement for Water was created in partnership with ISW and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The ISW was founded in Montreal as an international non-governmental organization working on global water problems and the SDC is a Swiss government agency.
The Global Youth Movement for Water was created to enable young people to be involved in and mobilize change in the water sector. With a goal to have young people contribute to policy development, the movement runs initiatives like hosting regional programs to engage youth at the local level on water-related issues.
Among the Canadian participants are Kate Brown and Laina Timberg, both 28, who proposed a review of the Columbia River Basin Treaty, now being negotiated by the Canadian and American governments. They said the renegotiation is an opportunity to re-examine the treaty’s original terms and priorities and determine how it should be altered to reflect new issues like climate change.
Co-founders of the North American Youth Parliament for Water, Brown and Timberg’s proposal was selected as the conference’s North American regional event to engage local youth in issues relevant to them and the future of the basin, which took place on Feb. 11.
Timberg said youth are going to be most affected by the global water crisis, so “we need more opportunity to participate in those decision-making panels...”
Both Brown and Timberg are excited to be attending the UN water conference and are looking forward to sharing their research findings and contributing to the conversation.
Brown said instead of having to fight for a seat, the conference has “folks who are there to say, ‘I’m saving you a seat, come join me.’”
Having the platform at the UN conference and the support of international organizations mean youth are being recognized as capable individuals to make positive change in their communities, Brown said.
While young people are not in decision-maker seats yet, their voices encourage action, and can motivate policymakers, Dousse said.
“It’s quite often an uphill battle for youth, but it’s really encouraging to see there are more established professionals and organizations like the UN and ISW, which are waiting with open arms for youth to come in and share their stories,” Brown said.
Nairah Ahmed, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer