By Julie Mollins
An inspired Facebook update or a 140-character tweet could play a key role in shaping global development plans.
Over the next few weeks, policymakers are seeking input from the public via social media channels as they craft a sustainable development goal to address global water-management concerns and ensure water is available in the future for food and industrial production, for drinking and for sanitation.
Experts hope the internet-based public water consultation will help them forge streamlined goals for the post-2015 development agenda by building consensus around three main aspects of water management: water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); water resources; wastewater management and water quality.
The vox-populi process is part of a broader effort by the United Nations (U.N.) to collate views on 11 overarching consultation topics that would replace the eight anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000, some of which are likely to remain unmet by the 2015 deadline.
In addition to water, goals being debated in the "World We Want 2015"campaign include inequalities, governance, health, environmental sustainability, population dynamics, growth and employment, conflict and fragility, food security and nutrition and education.
More than 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation and just over 1 billion people in that group defecate in the open - a serious problem that experts say exists in part because society is uncomfortable discussing human waste, making it difficult to find solutions.
The combined effects of improper sanitation, unsafe water supply and poor personal hygiene are responsible for 88 percent of childhood deaths from diarrhoea and are estimated to cause more than 3,000 child deaths per day, according to UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency.
Although the proportion of people who defecate in the open is actually decreasing, the absolute number has stayed the same for several years due to population growth, the U.N. says.
The world's population is set to rise to 9.5 billion by 2050, making it even more crucial that solutions to the problem are found.
The drinking water MDG goal was met by the end of 2010, and although more than 2 billion people have gained access to safe water, about 783 million people are still without it, according to a joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation led by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WATER AND ENERGY
The consultation on water resources - led by the Stockholm International Water Institute - is focused around water and its interdependent relationship with energy: energy production requires water; water extraction, treatment and delivery require energy.
Energy demand is expected to soar over the next 20 years as the population expands.
It is not yet clear whether the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be underpinned by the water-food-energy nexus, a concept that urges businesses, governments and civil society to take a more holistic view of economic growth and development.
It aims to create a sustainable economy and a healthy environment by considering the pros and cons of how each of the three elements interrelate and are affected by decision-making.
The wastewater management and water quality consultation process considers the impact of wastewater on oceans, wastewater reuse and economic opportunities in the wastewater industry.
Ideas resulting from the public consultation will be hammered out and streamlined into the overall U.N.-led intergovernmental process for establishing the post-2015 sustainable development goals by mid-February.
Contributors can participate by using the hashtag #waterpost2015 on Twitter or by visiting the WaterPost2015 Facebook page.
The outcome from the different discussions will be summarised into policy recommendations in a final report that will be given to the High-level Panel on Post-2015 to be appointed by the U.N. secretary general at the end of March.