Lessons learned from the UN Water Conference in Tajikistan
The Second International High-Level Conference on the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development” ended on 9 June in Dushanbe, Tajikistan after four days of intense discussions and reflections about the future of the water sector. IWA was present at the conference with a delegation of its Young Water Professionals (YWP), highlighting IWA’s commitment to youth engagement in the water sector.
The IWA Youth delegation was composed of Emily Ryan, current chair of the IWA YWP Steering Committee, Jacob Amengor, 2018 IWA Young Leadership Award Winner, and Dr Farokh Laqa Kakar, chair of the IWA YWP Canada Chapter. They were led by Dr Isabela Espindola, IWA Membership Engagement Officer responsible for the YWP Community, and supported by UNICEF Tajikistan.
Besides the plenaries and the side panel discussions, the conference had five different forums, all related to issues revolving around water and how to accelerate efforts to meet the SDG 6 targets by 2030.
The IWA Youth delegation attended the conference and played a key role during the Youth and Children’s Water Forum, organised by UNICEF Tajikistan, on 6 June. Joined by water youth organisations from all over the world, the delegates were able to learn from and engage with peers working in water to better define the role of young people in the future of water. The IWA Youth delegation presented during the “SDG Youth Talk” and the “Water Challenges and Potential Solutions – reflections from youth change makers and key experts” panels.
Jacob Amengor sat on the panel for the SDG Youth Talk during the Youth & Children’s Water Forum. He made a passionate appeal for the funding policies for Young Entrepreneurs to be re-evaluated, as current funds given to support young WASH entrepreneurs were inadequate and the terms of the funding, stifling for young people. According to Jacob, most of these funds are acquired through competition, incubator and accelerator programmes.
Dr Farokh Laqa Kakar, Emily Ryan and Isabela Espindola participated in the panel on “Water Challenges and Potential Solutions – reflections from youth change makers and key experts”. Dr Farokh Laqa Kakar and Isabela Espindola discussed the importance of youth engagement in the water sector, arguing that water organisations should value youth needs and place their contribution at the core of their activities. Isabela presented how IWA views youth engagement and how it connects young water professionals to all IWA activities by creating opportunities for them to engage in the sector and involving them in the organisation of events and conferences. She also highlighted how education, awareness-raising and capacity-building are key aspects to progress towards youth participation and engagement in the water sector.
Farokh described how her participation in IWA activities and her role as chair of the IWA YWP Canada Chapter helped her to develop skills as a water professional. She shared her positive experience with IWA, stating that the local connections she has made with other young professionals in her region helped her to create valuable networks for knowledge-sharing and professional development.
Emily Ryan spoke about the challenges facing youth in water and outlined potential solutions to these challenges. She discussed the importance of youth representation in water decision-making, how essential it is to support education and capacity building in youth for the future of the changing water sector, and the role of partnering with senior members of our sector to ensure that the work of youth is appreciated and valued. Emily was the official rapporteur of the Youth & Children’s Water Forum, and she delivered a closing speech on the outcomes of the forum to the conference delegates on 8 June. Her report will be embedded in the conference outcomes.
During the Dushanbe Conference Emily Ryan and Jacob Amengor also met with the Council of the European Union (EU) Special Representative to Central Asia, H. E. Terhi Hakala. During this meeting, IWA youth delegates had the chance to discuss the importance of the participation of youth in the Dushanbe Conference, and how beneficial it was to have the opportunity to meet with different youth organisations working in the water sector. Emily Ryan and Jacob Amengor also talked about how youth can overcome some of the barriers to youth participation in high level processes, underlining IWA’s commitment to youth engagement in the water sector.
The conference concluded with two important achievements for young people. First, the concluding Dushanbe Declaration supports and encourages the participation of young people to play an important role in the UN 2023 Water Conference. Second, Henk Ovink, special envoy for International Water Affairs and Sherpa of the UN 2023 Water Conference, pledged to support to the 303030 youth campaign during the closing of the conference.
The message is clear: youth has a strong voice and should play a central role in raising the profile of the water sector. Their ideas and visions need platforms and support from key water organisations to be developed, financed and implemented. Stronger partnerships are needed, and IWA is committed to be part of this ongoing engagement of young water leaders.
by Farokh Kakar, Emily Ryan, Jacob Amengor and Isabela Espindola