Interview with Nikhil Chandavarkar, new Secretary of UN-Water
Mr Nikhil Chandavarkar, Chief of Communication and Outreach for the Division of Sustainable Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) recently became Secretary of UN-Water. We asked him a few questions about how water will be addressed at the 17th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-17) and about his ideas regarding the future of UN-Water.
How will CSD-17 address water-related issues?
“The thematic issues under discussion at CSD-17 are Africa, agriculture, drought and desertification, land and rural development. Water has been covered as a specific theme in previous sessions and therefore isn't currently an independent subject on the agenda.”
“Nevertheless, water has now become seen as a connecting thread linking the different thematic issues under negotiation. For example, everyone clearly recognizes that any negotiations on drought and desertification must take water into account. The same is true for agriculture and rural development. As I am responsible for supporting the negotiations on land, drought, desertification and Africa, I will seek to provide delegates with the relevant information they need on water issues to enable them to consider integrating them in the discussions and final outcome.”
“The CSD is organizing a ministerial round table on the integrated management of land and water resources at the 17th Session. Our goal is to bring the technical issues relating to water and land to the ministerial level. I am responsible for the preparation of the substantive background paper to guide the round table. In a similar vein, UN-Water and the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) are organizing a side event on the third World Water Development Report. Side events at CSD sessions focus on communicating issues. In addition to the side event, the CSD-17 learning centre, which focuses on teaching and training at a practical level, has several events addressing water issues. Anyone interested in participating in learning centre events can do so on line through the CSD-17 web site”
What is next on the agenda for the CSD?
“The next cycle deals with sustainable consumption and production, transport, chemicals, waste management and mining: topics not often associated with water resource management. But water is a cross-cutting theme that underpins every aspect of sustainable development. UN-Water will make sure that this crucial link is duly recognized. In 2010, the selected theme of the World Water Day is water quality and this actually fits quite well with the focus areas of the next CSD.”
What do you see as the major challenges for UN-Water?
“UN-Water is the UN inter-agency mechanism that has the most to show for its efforts. The World Water Development Reports and other UN-Water technical reports are of high quality and very much appreciated. The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs was very impressed with the depth and breadth of the work being done by UN-Water members and how the work of different members complements each other.
The next step is to take this technical expertise to the political level, without becoming ‘political’ in the process. While seeking greater visibility and recognition for its good work among member states and senior officials of the UN system, UN-Water needs to continue to maintain itself as a mechanism that constitutes a highly professional meeting of peers; a non-hierarchical and collegial structure in which the chair is the primus inter pares.
We have just initiated the first external evaluation of UN-Water. The outcome of the review will provide the basis for longer term planning.”
How will UN-Water meet these challenges?
“Right now, I think it’s important that we build on the strengths of UN-Water and its programmes and use that strength to address several key areas. UN-Water needs to raise its profile at the interagency and intergovernmental levels and with the outside world. We need to become better known. As Chief of Communication and Outreach for UNDESA's Division of Sustainable Development, I will certainly use my office to help promote UN-Water and its good work. I was happy to see that the Economist in a recent article on water challenges, quoted data from UN-Water’s Third World Water Development Report.
But UN-Water also needs to address this issue in a systematic way by taking advantage of the unrealized synergies that exist among UN-Water programmes. The UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC) was established to promote the goals of the International Decade for Action Water for Life 2005-2015. There is a clear congruence between its mandate and the need for UN-Water and its programmes to increase their outreach and communication. We need to take practical steps to increase the further cross-fertilization among UN-Water programmes.
Towards this end, UNW-DPAC will coordinate the exhibit for the Water Decade and UN-Water at the World Water Week in Stockholm. In September UNW-DPAC will also do outreach with the UN Department of Public Information on the issue of water and climate change. UN-Water will thus work together to strengthen its outreach and enhance further its visibility through greater involvement of all members and further synergies among them.”