This short article reflects the experience of the World Youth Parliament for Water participating in the Dushanbe Water Process which took place in June 2022 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as part of the preparation for the United Nations Water Conference, the first in almost 50 years.
These are the stories of the youth leaders who worked to make the conference historic.
I arrived in Dushanbe on a beautiful Saturday morning, surrounded by my friends and soon-to-be friends in the water world. After hours of travelling from New York, I was welcomed off the plane by local sunshine into the conference, where the excitement was palpable. Dushanbe was a milestone for everyone, but particularly for young people as we prepare for the UN Water conference in 2023. This is one of the first times such varied youth groups were funded to be in the same place, at the same time. This forum gave us a chance to align our messaging and strategise on how we wanted to tackle this conference together and push for the change we need to see in the water world. As most conferences go, a lot of the action happened on the sidelines, and while diverse groups of people presented and participated in panels, some of the most thought-provoking conversations took place during breaks. As the adage goes, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. We need change, as white-male-dominated forums have so far not triggered the innovative decisions and action plans needed to get us to the place we need to be if we are to sustain the world for future generations. I am so proud to be a part of such a collaborative, driven, and dedicated group of people and I hope to see more inclusion of young people, particularly of underrepresented groups, at events like these moving forward.
While fluidity is one of water’s main characteristics, paradoxically, water governance spaces always seemed rigid and slow-paced to me. Dushanbe represented a step in the right direction towards increasing the fluidity and openness of these spaces, as proposed in the Youth Vision. Yet, much remains to be done.
Well-versed in working with civil society, albeit in different sectors, I am shocked by the fact that the water sector continues to be comfortable with having only older white cis-men around the table – especially as so many water projects fail due to the gap between the views of those who plan the projects and policies, and those who implement and receive them.
Dushanbe was a step towards a more inclusive water sector, but we are still far from where we should be in terms of representation. The conference highlighted the importance of engaging with local communities, social movements and civil society – especially those led by women, indigenous and traditional peoples and youth. Ensuring this is the first step towards opening up the space and access to resources so that the sector and global water goals flow as they need.
From Dakar to New York via Dushanbe. A promising route, with great promises for the decade for action on Water for Sustainable Development. On the surface, everything looked the same: older people – and more men than women – discussing topics such as water management and “Thinking Outside of the Water Box”, you name it.
However, underneath the surface, waves were roaring. For our youth movement, it felt as if our momentum had finally started. Important people from the field expressed their support verbally and in writing; youth was invited to attend high-level sessions and I personally connected with lots of different networks, both established experts and promising youth.
Departing from Dushanbe was hard, as it felt like our momentum would stop. On the contrary, however, I am busier than ever, connecting with established organisations that are making sure that youth is included in their plans. Moreover, Dushanbe was a confirmation that we are well under way, while simultaneously being very far from done yet.
The hallmark of the decade of action plan for water is the UN 2023 water conference, but significant to this is the Dushanbe Water Process. In Dushanbe, I had the platform to share my ideas and experience on how to unite local voices for water security during the Youth and Children sessions. This has connected me with the shared aspirations of young water professionals, and the quest for water infrastructure at the grassroots and in local communities.
I experienced uncommon unity, collaboration and relentless commitment on the side of young people. This further helped me to realise the importance of youth in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6. With such an invigorating welcome by the Tajiks, I am now even more confident that global water aspirations are slowly but surely finding their way from the grassroots to the top of the global agenda. The SDG 6 target for 2030 is surely achievable with all hands on deck.
In April 2022, I became a part of the conference’s organising committee and used all the opportunities to support my peers and attract as many young people as possible to engage in the conference. Being an environmental activist from the host country, it was incredible to observe the Youth Forum serve as a hub for young people from all over the world to share their experiences, join forces and establish impactful connections for water!
I was honoured to participate in the Panel Discussion on Youth Challenges in the Water Sector to address the importance of framing water issues through a youth lens.
In the Final Declaration, “From Dushanbe 2022 to New York 2023”, young people were finally recognised in water governance and management at all levels – a moment we had been advocating for recognized years. It gives the promising platform for significant change that we will continue to push for ahead of the UN 2023 water conference.
I had the chance to be included from the very beginning in the discussions of the Youth and Children’s Water Forum with UNICEF Tajikistan. I was also part of some of the negotiations and meetings with the International Advisory Committee of the Second High-Level International Conference on the International Decade for Water Action “2018–2028”. Finally, I am the Youth Advisor at the Water and Climate Coalition.
Being in those interconnected roles I gained great insights on these UN and intergovernmental high-level processes, and I was able to carry the voice of youth. But I am the exception, not the norm.
That's why I believe that the “303030” Global Youth Campaign for Youth Inclusion that I launched in Dushanbe should be the new golden standard inspiring stakeholders and policymakers beyond water and climate. 303030 is a target of 30% inclusion and participation of young professionals and advocates below 30 years of age (this can change depending on regional youth definitions) by 2030.
I found my big “why” in life – uniting the world for water – and I found “how” to make it happen: by engaging and empowering young people. We will only build a common, better and liveable planet together.