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The bloodstream of life: water for climate – COP28 daily

The only topic that is not covered yet by a global convention is water. There is one on climate change, one on biodiversity, one on combating desertification and a new one is about to be born on plastic pollution. Nevertheless, water is the bloodstream of life, ecosystems and economy.

At COP28 the Water Climate Leaders were signing a declaration on water for climate solutions. Among others, Hungarian former president, János Áder was among the signatories. Their call for action is about challenging countries to work together to achieve alignment of water and climate policies at COP28, providing mutual support through the sharing of data, experience and ideas and mainstreaming water into all current and relevant UNFCCC work programs across scales and at the country level in nationally determined contributions.

They urge all governments to ‘wake up to water’ as part of the climate solution. They say that water is a ‘super-power’ for responding to global warming: for emission reductions, adaptation and resilience. Water is the key for achieving net-zero sustainable development. If we take care of water, water can help us take care of the climate.

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On climate-resilient water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services for health, a lot has been said at COP28 on the links between climate risks, effects on water supply, sanitation service sustainability and knock-on effects on human health. It was demonstrated how water and sanitation services can be made more resilient and how resilient services contribute to wider societal resilience. It is clear that the WASH sector itself should address climate change more proactively. The impact of climate change on water is multifold, including increasing water scarcity, extreme weather events such as floods and torrential rains, re-emergence of waterborne and vector-borne diseases. All of these have direct linkages to human health. Addressing these hazards requires multistakeholder and transboundary action.

The Protocol on Water and Health, co-led by the WHO Regional Office of Europe and the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe, provides a platform for intersectoral cooperation, both nationally and internationally. Its unique national target-setting mechanism, which allows countries to define their own priorities and their own level of ambition, also sets a framework for action towards climate resilience. Hungary is the current chair of this unique instrument.

Just recently, 3 weeks ago, the Protocol on Water and Health convened a Strategic Roundtable on Increasing Resilience to Climate Change in the Water and Sanitation Sector in Geneva, with more than 100 participants from countries, international organisations and NGOs discussing challenges, best practices and future strategies. One of the most important problems identified was the lack of data on the expected impact of climate change on water resources, especially groundwater. Participants resolved to collate a compendium of adaptation actions and to develop further guidance. These resources will support Parties and other countries in the region and beyond to tackle the increasing threat of climate change to water.

An underestimated player in this game is the health sector. The healthcare facilities are contributing both to the problem as significant emitters of CO2, wastewater and hazardous waste, but also to mitigating the impact of climate change on human health. Adequate, inclusive, sustainable and climate-resilient WASH in healthcare facilities are the foundation of quality care. Recognising the importance of this issue, Hungary co-leads both a programme area in the framework of the Protocol on Water and Health and the UN Group of Friends on WASH in healthcare facilities. These complimentary lines of work, one on the high policy level, and one on the ground, can advance increasing sustainability and climate resilience of healthcare facilities, and contribute to the health and wellbeing of patients and healthcare workers.

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