UN Water

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Established in 2003, UN-Water is a UN inter-agency mechanism for the oversight and facilitation of water and sanitation related targets and goals declared at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and those included in Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)[1]. This UN mechanism is made up of UN agencies and non-UN partners who work together in coherence with UN system actions to support UN member states in their efforts to achieve global water goals – particularly those related to the MDGs. Though UN Water “is not a mechanism for direct implementation” at the country level (i.e. UN Water does not have legislative power), many of the UN agencies that form UN Water do have influential “operational activities” overseeing and facilitating strategic policy goals as they pertain to legislative directives [2].

In the facilitation of a global water dialogue and agenda UN Water has encouraged increased participation and involvement of private entities and individuals. UN Water calls for “coordinated action – beginning with the UN system but also progressively including other concerned ‘non-traditional’ partners and stakeholders, including among them organisations from public and private sectors, civil society and labour – towards a global comprehensive effort”[3]. What is implied here, however, is critical to understanding UN’s indirect role of facilitating the expansion of new markets for capital accumulation – in this case a water market. UN Water’s support of the Dublin Statement – where water is deemed an economic good - presupposes their support of private sector involvement in the delivery of water-related services. This is more broadly characteristic of UN’s general and explicit support for corporate-driven economic development.

In fact, water corporations have played an important role in UN Water policy formation. For example, when the former Director General Kofi Annan initiated the UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation he appointed several prominent water privatization advocates to direct the board’s policy directives, namely: Mahmoud Abou Zeid – Egypt’s Irrigation and Water Minister and a member of the board of governors and founder of the World Water Council (WWC), Michel Camdessus – the former managing director of the IMF, Peter Woicke – executive vice-president of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Gérard Payen – senior executive vice-president of Suez ”[4].

Some of the more prominent UN Water members and partners are influential pro-privatisation agencies, including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the World Bank, the Global Water Partnership (GWP), the World Water Council (WWC), the International Water Association (IWA) and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD)[5].


  1. UN Water, About, accessed 21 October 2008.
  2. UN Water, About, accessed 21 October 2008.
  3. UN Water, About, accessed 21 October 2008.
  4. Ann-Christin Sjolander Holland (2005) 'The Water Business: Corporations Versus People', Black Point: Fernwood Publishing, p.118-119.
  5. UN Water Annual Report 2007, [1], (p.18-19), accessed 21 October 2008.