Interview with András Szöllösi-Nagy
rector UNESCO-IHE in Delft, the Netherlands

On 22 March the international World Water Day celebration will take place in The Hague, the Netherlands. The central theme on this day is water cooperation. This mostly concerns authorities that need to develop coherent water policies, to work together at all levels and to involve stakeholders, including local communities, farmers, industry and nature conservancy organizations.

On the occasion of the celebration in The Hague, a high-level panel will discuss new global water targets, since the current ones related to drinking water and sanitation post 2015. The discussion, started by the United Nations earlier this year, is at full swing and a first draft should be ready before the next General Assembly in September.

On the eve of the international celebration, Rector András Szöllösi-Nagy of the Dutch-based UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education reflects on the achievements accomplished to date of the UN Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation (reduction by half of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation).

As a member of the UN community Szöllösi-Nagy is actively involved in the debate on the post-2015 water goals. In this interview he reflects on the debate that will take place in The Hague.

What has been achieved in the past 12 years?
There is good and bad news. The good news is that the world has shown political will to stand up against poverty and that moral message will certainly go beyond 2015. Trying to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, water has emerged as a cross-cutting issue that cannot be solved on its own.

Next to social and economic development, environmental sustainability plays a key role. Water supply is more than building reservoirs and fixing the leaks in pipe lines. The water community has started to realise this and that, in itself, is tremendous advancement.

The number of people without access to safe drinking water has dropped from 1.4 billion to 800 million. That is great progress and an indicator that we are on the right track globally. However, great disparities still remain.

What is the sad news?
When the Millennium Development Goals were implemented in 2000, there were 2.5 billion people without access to sanitation facilities. Today this number is 2.6 billion. Instead of a decrease, this number in fact increased significantly.

Everyone should recognize that sanitation fundamentally determines public health. Ninety percent of the diseases in sub-Saharan Africa are water-born or water-related. Therefore, if governments want to improve a deplorable public health situation, they must invest into sanitation.

Will the sanitation goal ever be reached?
If we continue with the unsolved business at the current pace, it will takes us into the '80s of this century to reach the sanitation goal in sub-Saharan Africa. That time span is much too long. We will therefore have to define smarter goals that are easier to measure, more realistic and timely but most importantly act upon them.

It will be a big challenge to develop indicators that measure what is really happening, but at the same time are easy to understand by the public at large.

What will the future bring?
The looming water crisis is not so much about running out of water resources. It is about how water is being governed. This covers a number of issues ranging from institutional arrangements, appropriate water laws to available and adequate capacities.

Moreover, the issue of data management is to be elevated from data collection to distributing data products, such as forecasts and assessments.

I believe we will not run out of water. Of all the unfrozen fresh water 90% is under ground. In many arid areas underground aquifers are the only water source available.

We do, however, have to find a way to use these aquifers in a sustainable manner, without depleting and polluting them. Once polluted, the aquifer is lost.

What is on the agenda in The Hague?
The two-day meetings in The Hague will be centered around water as a potential source for cooperation. Hereby we recognize that water connects and does not divide. Therefore it is an excellent basis to build cooperation across divides, be them political or disciplinary.

I believe the debate will bring out the importance of defining new Sustainable Development Goals in the area of water and sanitation. Of course we still have unfinished business related to the water and sanitation, and water supply MDGs.

We need to continue our efforts but at the same time new challenges with respect to water emerged, such as the need for Climate Adaptive Water Management, the protection of aquatic ecosystems, transboundary water issues and above all Capacity Development for the benefit of developing countries and countries in transition.

We therefore have to define a new set of water and sanitation related SDGs that cover these areas as well.

.. and how can this be achieved?
The discussion just started within the United Nations General Assembly. There will be a great number of conferences and symposia that will be devoted to defining the new SDGs. For instance, our institute will hold a major international conference at the end of May devoted to Capacity Development within the SDG context.

In October of this year, the Budapest Water Summit will be held with the involvement of high-level political and technical people. Recommendations will be channeled into the UN General Assembly for consideration by the UN Member States.

In March 2012 at the World Water Forum in Marseille, András Szöllösi-Nagy looked ahead at the International Year of Water Cooperation.

About András Szöllösi-Nagy
András Szöllösi-Nagy, a distinguished scholar, professor and internationally recognized water expert, began his appointment as Rector of UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in September 2009. A native of Hungary, Professor Szöllösi-Nagy earned a PhD in hydrology from the Budapest University of Technology and was awarded a Doctor of Science (DSc) degree by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Prior to his appointment in Delft, the Netherlands, Professor Szöllösi-Nagy was Director of the Division of Water, Secretary of the International Hydrological Programme (IHP) and Deputy Assistant Director-General of the Natural Sciences Sector of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

About UNESCO-IHE for Water Education
UNESCO-IHE is the largest international postgraduate water education facility in the world. Since 1957 the Institute has provided postgraduate education to more than 14,500 water professionals from over 160 countries, the vast majority from the developing world.

More information
Delft, the Netherlands
+31 15 215 17 05

Follow this website for more news on the international celebration of World Water Day 2013 in The Hague.

The main events in The Hague on occasion of the international World Water Day 2013 celebration:

Wednesday 20 March
- Walking for Walk

Thursday 21 March
- Working hand in hand for groundwater governance roundtable
- Wings for water - multi-stakeholder dialogue(*)

Friday 22 March - official world water day
- World Youth Parliament for water conference - 22 March
- High Level Meeting on Water Cooperation and on the Global Thematic Consultation on Water - 22 March (*)
(* = on invitation only, will be broadcasted live by UN Water)

Read previous news items on World Water Day on this website:
- World Water Day – The Hague: "Water supply is more than fixing a pipeline"
- World Water Day – The Hague: "Water equity breaks the hold of national sovereignty"
- World Water Day – The Hague: Tomorrow’s water management is all about sharing water resources
- Unesco kicks off year of water cooperation in Paris, next event in The Hague
- First programme outline international celebration of World Water Day 2013 in The Hague
- Stockholm water week: Unesco and Dutch government take up World water day 2013

For the latest information on World Water Day 2013 see:
- International year of water cooperation
- International World Water Day 2013 celebration in The Hague, the Netherlands

Public consultations on post-2015 wash targets:
- The world we want 2015 - official UN thematic consultation - water
- The Broker Online - special debate Prioritising on water