The UN talked about water for three days. But what did it achieve?

The water crisis is worsening every year because of climate change, pollution and overuse.

But the UN had not held a conference dedicated to water in nearly half a century.

This week thousands of ministers, NGOs, scientists and even the King of the Netherlands gathered in New York to discuss a plan of action to save a resource no one can live without.

The statistics quoted by delegates to the UN Water Conference on the global water crisis were startling.

Two billion people do not have access to safe water and sanitation.

4.3 billion people suffer from water scarcity for at least one month a year.

Women and girls spend a colossal 200 million hours every day collecting water.

And 800,000 people die every year from diseases directly attributed to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that "vampiric overconsumption" was destroying the world's water supplies.

Global freshwater demand is on track to outstrip supply by 40% by the end of the current decade.

But beyond stating terrifying numbers and reiterating calls to action, what did this week's conference – hailed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve the water crisis - achieve?

Water action agenda agreed

One of the main outcomes, according to the conference hosts, was the agreement of a "water action agenda" to coordinate the voluntary commitments of member states and the private sector into an actionable "framework".

Asked by RTÉ News exactly how words will be turned into action, Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands (the country co-hosting the conference alongside Tajikistan), said the first step was to test the effectiveness of proposed solutions on the ground before rolling them out on a larger scale.

"We want to know the impact is there and to learn from those commitments," he said.

"And if these actions that are being put forward are working, then we need to seek opportunities for scale and replication," he added.

The conference also saw a petition handed to the Secretary-General, signed by hundreds of delegates, calling for a special envoy dedicated to water, inside the UN system.

Meanwhile individual member states pledged financial commitments to building water and sanitation infrastructure, including $49bn announced by the United States.

But, delegates agree, that one of the most significant outcomes of the week was simply putting water at the heart of the United Nations agenda.

"This week, we are all laser focused on the issue of water," Ireland’s Ambassador to the UN Fergal Mythen told RTÉ News.

Ireland has responsibility, along with Qatar, for rallying action among member states on the sustainable development goals (of which water is goal number six) ahead of a major summit in September.

"From now on, water should be on the agenda for any major discussions among the member states," Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Li Junhua told a news conference on Friday.

As the first UN Water Conference in nearly 50 years wraps up, organisers urged member states to keep the pressure on.

"We can’t let this momentum we created together go to waste," Henk Ovink told RTÉ News.

"We now have to do whatever it takes," he said.