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Goals, progress and priorities from Mar del Plata in 1977 to New York in 2023


The United Nations (UN) 1977 Water Conference at Mar del Plata (MDP) sought to avoid a water crisis of global dimensions by 2000 and to ensure an adequate supply of good-quality water to meet socio-economic needs. While much has been achieved, the MDP goals are not yet realized. Unsafe, or perceived to be unsafe, drinking water still affects at least two billion people, unsafe sanitation affects more than four billion people, and billions face severe water scarcity for at least part of the year. At the mid-point of the 2018–2028 International Decade for Action, Water for Sustainable Development, the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York City offers a unique opportunity to review progress on global water goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Sustainable Development Goal 6 and its targets. Here we document the global goals and progress from MDP to New York City and highlight priorities to deliver on the MDP goals and beyond.

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Fig. 1: Timeline of key UN water-related initiatives between 1975 and 2030.
Fig. 2: Mapping the Goals from the First to the Second UN Water Conference.
Fig. 3: Worldwide progress towards access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation.
Fig. 4: Global Water Withdrawals (109 m3 yr-1), and Global forest area (106 ha yr-1) and deforestation (106 ha).
Fig. 5: Global data gaps on access to safe drinking water.


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We are grateful to the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, which provided a partial subsidy for H.B., S.F. and N.S.

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Quentin Grafton, R., Biswas, A.K., Bosch, H. et al. Goals, progress and priorities from Mar del Plata in 1977 to New York in 2023. Nat Water 1, 230–240 (2023).

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