The 10th World Water Forum's (Bali) Ministerial Declaration: An Analysis

By Jean Lapegue, Senior WASH Advisor, Action Against Hunger

6 Jun 2024 by The Water Diplomat

The 10th World Water Forum was held in Bali, Indonesia, from 20 to 24 May 2024, in the presence of some 20,000 participants[1] from 160 countries, 107 international organizations, several ministerial delegations and some heads of state.

At this occasion, the States issued a Ministerial Declaration on 21 May 2024[2]. It is useful to look at this political document, against the background of the previous declaration, issued at the World Water Forum in Dakar, in 2022, as well as in the context of current challenges facing the water sector: including an open question on the global governance of the sector (the 2023 United Nations Water Conference will be followed by a Water Summit in 2026, which we would like to see institutionalised through regular meetings, but this has not been confirmed as yet)  as well as a general lack of decision and action to redress the huge gap between  global goals and real achievements, the chronic underfunding of the sector (particularly in humanitarian settings), and issues associated with the voice of civil society.

It is noteworthy that the alternative forum in Bali was subjected to severe and unacceptable pressure, and has been banned, for the first time in thirty years, and then reduced to half a day online instead of three days of face-to-face learning, a fact that was affirmed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur during a side event.[3]

We should also note the significant obstacles to participation for civil society (prohibitive registration fees, lack of financial support mechanisms, etc.) which reduce representation by  local communities, particularly in developing countries.

We recall that the World Water Forum is a space created thirty years ago as a response to a vacuum at UN level concerning the water sector as a whole (a vacuum that generally lasted until the 2023 United Nations Water Conference).

Without having UN legitimacy, the World Water Forum logically has less political scope than those of intergovernmental meetings at the United Nations and serves above allas an international multi-stakeholder platform for the exchange of good practices and experiences. It remains a useful arena for the actors present who can occasionally instil proposals in future UN conferences[4]. However, there is no mechanism for monitoring the commitments of the declarations successively produced by the Forums. The  World Water Forum suffers from its lack of articulation with UN processes and contributes without a guaranteed influence  on UN processes or the positions taken by the United Nations.

It should be remembered that the ministerial declaration is not the declaration of the participants in the Forum[5] but that of the Intergovernmental Ministerial Conference held on the occasion of the Forum (thus limiting its scope to the delegations present), its writing being done through a negotiation process prior to the event (two meetings at UNESCO under the impetus of the Indonesian government) and a finalization in parallel of the 279 public sessions of the Forum (side events and debates).[6]

As for the themes of the Bali Ministerial Declaration in 2024, they cover, without bringing spectacular progress, the broad, complex and cross-cutting spectrum of the sector through thirteen points that can be grouped into a few major axes presented below:

The declaration recalls  the pressing challenge of achieving the 2030 Agenda in the context of the growing challenge of climate change (reminding us of the UNFCCC COPs, the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework 2015-2030 and the expected impacts on biodiversity (Convention onf Biological Diversity and the Kunming-Montreal Global Framework for Action).

The declaration proposes to use the next United Nations Water Conference (2026) as a lever to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 dedicated to Water, referring in particular to the 2028 United Nations conference to assess the implementation of the goals of the International Decade for Action 2018-2028 "Water for Sustainable Development",[7]  ahead of the closing of the 2030 Agenda.

It recalls the importance of the human rights to water and sanitation, as the sector's contribution to the realization of other universal rights, a renewed affirmation of the legal basis of the indivisibility of these rights in international law. In this context, the Declaration adopts a "One Health" approach by insisting on the importance of jointly addressing climate, biodiversity, pollution and ecosystem protection issues. It also addresses universality, another of the basic principles of human rights, including gender, indigenous peoples and local communities, and young people.

In line with the above elements and the challenges of increasing demand related to population growth and increasing water stress, it proposes a strategy based on water security, promoting management, cooperation, sustainable finance and the improvement of knowledge and understanding of the sector. It also advocates strategies for sustainable development combining the environment, the economy and social issues.

The Bali Declaration also defends hydro-diplomacy, transboundary management and reaffirms the existence of the right to water and sanitation without asking for its legal anchoring, but also promotes controversial technical solutions, including the use of non-conventional water resources, such as desalination.

It recalls, beyond the priority of developing countries, the urgency of access to water and sanitation in humanitarian contexts (conflicts and natural disasters).[8]

The Declaration emphasizes the historic (and very real) role of the World Forums in terms of dialogue and exchange over the past thirty years (Marrakesh 1997). It concludes with the pious wish for leadership in the sector crowning a governance that it currently lacks.

It finally leads to a call to action broken down into sixteen points taking up in detail the major themes mentioned above.

Compared to the previous and more concise Ministerial Declaration (Dakar, 2022),[9] the emphasis in Bali was on the integrated approach to water (in the other sectors, and in the climate[10] and environment dimensions) as well as on the crisis and humanitarian response dimension.

The Bali Ministerial Declaration logically reflects the growing challenges of climate, environment, biodiversity, ecosystems and capacity building (Indonesian proposals to create a World Lake Day and a Center of Excellence in Asia[11]) and even the humanitarian crises that have escalated in recent years, bringing little novelty. It exhaustively lists the challenges of the sector, while remaining rather vague on the issues of governance (no mention of a Special Envoy) or financing (no mention of chronic underfunding) of the latter.

It can be criticized for being incantatory insofar as its call to action does not propose concrete commitments, a syndrome inherent in the weak political support of the World Water Forums.

Moreover, it does not expressly target a UN conference as a political outlet, as was the case in 2022 in Dakar, nor an international one (in this case it could have been the 2026 Conference).

Nor does it address current controversial issues, such as the reduction of water demand, lowering the water footprint and more broadly our environmental footprint, the underfunding and weak governance of the sector or the need to ban the use of water as a weapon and casualty of war, and does not convey the ambition that it would be desirable for 2026 to mark a real evolution in terms of governance.

While the next Global Forum will be held in Saudi Arabia, the Declaration also does not put its finger on the fundamental place of civil society voices in all processes of infringement of the law and, more generally, in decisions relating to water.

Beyond the scope of the Declaration, attention will have to be paid to the delicate transition that the World Water Council will have to make in the coming years vis-à-vis the United Nations Water Conference, if it becomes institutionalized and becomes a regular meeting every 3 years after the 2026 Conference. It will be necessary to maintain the openness and the possibility of multi-stakeholder exchanges that constitute the DNA of the Forum, while complementing them with the political legitimacy of a UN conference, by ensuring that the two processes can at least coexist, enrich each other and at best associate each other.

We can also salute the energy put into the Indonesians to infuse the "spirit of Bandung" into the coming international debate, that of the famous 1955 conference of newly decolonized countries which saw the birth of a brand new alliance of non-aligned countries that will integrate the United Nations. In the name of the forum "water for shared prosperity", the important word is "shared", marking the desire not to leave the socio-economic benefits of water uses to dominant actors alone. Although it is not formally reflected in the declaration, the multiplicity of high-level meetings that have been held shows Indonesia's strong desire to carry a strong influence in the upcoming negotiations.



[1] The 3rd Forum, in Kyoto, 2003, also had around 20,000 (including visits by school groups, etc.).


[3] Several NGOs and collectives have drafted statements on the cancellation of the Alternative World Water Forum by the authorities in Bali, also denouncing the intimidation of its organizers, participants, and even the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to water, by the police and paramilitary groups:

Water Integrity Network:

End Water Poverty:

[4] Some debates and exchanges have led to interesting and concrete progress in the sector: for example, the OECD Water Governance Initiative in Marseille in 2012, which gave rise to a real process at the OECD level, or the proposal to submit the declaration of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar (2022) as a contribution to the 2023 United Nations Water Conference.

[5] It should be noted that the only declaration specific to the participants in a Forum and elaborated in a participatory way was that of Brasilia (8th Forum of 2018) which in a way masked a poor ministerial declaration and launched the call "Current water policies will not be sufficient to reach the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)".

[6] The Ministerial Declaration is not assembled by the ministers present, since it is prepared in advance by the host country in the framework of intergovernmental negotiations hosted by UNESCO (so often it is the country delegations to UNESCO that negotiate). This raises the major limitation of the process: it is not known which countries are taking part in the negotiations and, above all, it is not formally adopted by the countries that support it as a UN resolution could be. It is therefore difficult to use the declaration as a tool for monitoring States' commitments, or advocating for them.

[7] International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028 (

[8]  Which in 2023 concerned an issue for 165 million people. UNOCHA, People In Need 2023.

[9] The Ministerial Declaration of the 9th Dakar Forum essentially included five themes: law, environment, financing, governance and bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

[10] The climate issue did not appear in the Dakar Declaration.

[11] Voir World Water Forum