Deep words, shallow words: an initial analysis of water discourse in four decades of UN declarations

Water is essential to life. The vocabulary of water percolates into daily conversations worldwide, whether in relation to personal or societal survival, the status and health of the global environment, or to water’s importance in other realms of sustainable development including food and energy security. As a result, the words used to highlight important issues related to water also matter, particularly when used by experts or when they come with the endorsement of highly-regarded bodies like the United Nations, especially in the form of UN Declarations and Resolutions. UNU-INWEH undertook an examination of the changing language of water in high-level declarations from eleven UN conferences on water and the environment over the past forty years. Both deepening and shallowing of key terms were evident throughout the documents and the report suggests effective strategies for highlighting and strengthening key concepts.