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Published on: 20/09/2023

The annual event, which took place from August 20 to 24, brought together over 15,000 participants from over 190 countries to discuss and find innovative solutions to complex water challenges. This year's theme was "Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World." Human activities have triggered a global water crisis where we have for the first time transgressed the safe planetary boundary for freshwater – this addresses both green water (invisible water, held in soil and plants in farms, forests etc.) and blue water (visible water in rivers, lakes etc) – both boundaries are transgressed. Yet this is only one of multiple interlinked crises; in addition, we must simultaneously tackle climate change, biodiversity loss, and poverty. Water is at the core of all these threats, which also means that it is one of the most powerful entry tools to find solutions.

This article shares what IRC focused on and learnt at one of the biggest water events in the world.

While championing a systems approach for water, sanitation and hygiene is at the core of our work, this year IRC focused on three main aspects:

  1. Promoting and championing systems leadership
  2. Launching the anticipated Heads of State Initiatives
  3. Learning about the latest developments in climate resilient WASH

Systems Leadership

IRC believes that systems leadership is essential to achieving SDG 6, the global goal of ensuring access to safe water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Patrick Moriarty explained the 'power of we' and systems leadership in a talk show together with Lena Scherman (Deep Sea Productions) and Farai Tunhuma (UNICEF). He emphasised 'that true systems leadership means seeing the bigger picture, recognising your role within that system, and most importantly being open and having generosity of spirit. Because only with systems leaders, can we accelerate our progress and drive change to achieve SDG 6 and ensure no one is left behind.' Curious to know more? You can read all about it in a short piece Patrick wrote for All Systems Connect.

Launch of the Heads of State Initiatives

The Heads of State Initiatives is a global movement to inspire and support the world's most ambitious and forward-thinking leaders, to achieve a common vision to secure water, sanitation and hygiene for all (see the partnering countries below).

Heads of State and Government are Presidents, Prime Ministers, or Monarchs. The initiatives are different for every country and can take various forms – from national compacts to presidential decrees, to royal seals of approval for new sector strategies, among others. What they have in common is inspiring political leadership and strong commitments made at the highest level.

Participating countries that work on the Heads of States Initiatives (in alphabetical order).

Participating countries that work on the Heads of States Initiatives (in alphabetical order).

The Initiative is an outcome of the UN 2023 Water Conference and its Water Action Agenda. Follow-up from the Action Agenda was a central theme of World Water Week which IRC, Sanitation and Water for All, the Government of the Netherlands and UNICEF contributed to by launching this exciting initiative together in Stockholm. Interested observers and passersby could watch the launch through live streaming at our One For All booth (see photo below).

Both Malawi and South Sudan announced their commitments to achieve sustainable and safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene.

Patrick Moriarty during his opening speech at the Launch of the Heads of State Initiatives

Patrick Moriarty during his opening speech at the Launch of the Heads of State Initiatives

Climate resilience

The effects of climate change are already being felt everywhere. Most strikingly, they are felt through too little, too much or too polluted water. IRC is committed to ensuring that our work contributes to climate resilient water, sanitation and hygiene systems. We attended several sessions at World Water Week to learn about the latest developments in this area. This is in line with our work in the follow-up from the All Systems Connect symposium and its emerging climate action agenda.

We learnt that the National Determined Contribution (NDC) Partnership developed country papers. However, these papers often do not reflect the latest insights and developments on water and sanitation. We aim to provide valuable input to ministers on how to update their NDCs to ensure that the latest thinking around sanitation is adequately represented. This will help ensure that these issues are given the attention they deserve at COP28.

Another takeaway is related to monitoring a global goal on adaptation that our One For All Alliance has been contributing to. This idea has the potential to build on the service level monitoring championed by the JMP, by also increasing efforts to monitor systems strength and change through processes such as GLAAS. The sector is therefore well placed to build on these processes for climate focused monitoring.

Other activities that IRC participated in at World Water Week:

  • AMCOW Africa's Voice on Water event. IRC now has a permanent section in the 'Africa's Voice on Water' magazine.
  • The Dutch Reception. IRC, together with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aqua for All, and the Max Foundation, hosted a reception at the Dutch Embassy.

Stockholm World Water Week provided IRC valuable insights that we will use to inform our current and future programmes. We are looking forward to next year's event.


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

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