The United Nations opened its first conference on water security for nearly half a century on Wednesday with an appeal to governments to better manage one of humanity’s shared resources.

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A quarter of the world’s population depends on unsafe drinking water while half lack basic sanitation, the UN said. At the same time, almost three quarters of recent disasters have been related to water.

“We are draining the lifeblood of humanity through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and vaporizing it through global warming,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Ensuring access to clean drinking water and sanitation is part of the UN’s 17-point to-do list for sustainable development, along with ending hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality and taking action against climate change.

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The three-day conference that begins Wednesday in New York is not intended to create the kind of binding agreement that emerged from climate summits in Paris in 2015, or on nature conservation in Montreal in 2022. But Guterres said it must “result in a bold Water Action Agenda that gives the lifeblood of our world the commitment it deserves.”

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That agenda aims to establish voluntary commitments from countries and sector representatives and create “political momentum”.

Guterres said governments needed plans that would “ensure equitable access to water for all people while conserving this precious resource”, and work with their neighbors to manage it.

The United States quickly responded to Guterres’ call.

“I am proud to announce that the United States is committing $49 billion to equitable, climate-resilient investments in water and sanitation at home and around the world,” said US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

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This money would “help create jobs, prevent conflict, protect public health, reduce the risk of famine and hunger and enable us to respond to climate change and natural disasters,” she said, without giving a timeline for the investments or details on how much money would be spent where.

Researchers, economists and policy experts grouped by the Netherlands government into the Global Commission on the Economics of Water have recommended phasing out about $700 billion in agricultural and water subsidies they say are environmentally harmful.

It also supports partnerships between development finance institutions and private investors to improve water systems.

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Broken Promises: Why Are Some First Nations Still Without Clean Drinking Water?

In a statement on World Water Day on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that Canada is working to ensure clean water for those around the world, as well as at home.

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“Everyone in Canada should have access to clean water,” Trudeau’s statement read. “The Government of Canada continues to work in partnership with First Nations communities to help end all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems, and to prevent more advisories from moving forward by jointly developing and implementing new safe drinking water legislation.”

The effects of properly managed water ecosystems extend beyond access to clean drinking water, Trudeau said.

“There is no resource more important to Canadians and the Canadian economy than clean water.”

— Editing by Mark Potter and Bill Berkrot. With files from Global News.

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