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Today marks World Water Day, observed on 22 March every year to celebrate water and raise awareness of water-related issues. The list of reasons for a day dedicated to water is long, from issues of distributing it during disasters to improving sanitation and making sure drinking water is of sufficient quality.
World Water Day is also a day to prepare how we manage the resource in the future. A United Nations report released in March warned the world could suffer a 40% shortfall in water in just 15 years unless countries dramatically change their use. As climate change takes its toll on Earth, rainfall patterns are predicted to become more erratic, while many underground water reserves are already running low.
The world is facing a “collapse in our global socioeconomic system”, Richard Connor, lead author of the report, told Reuters.
What is the theme for 2015?
Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. Under the theme “Water and Sustainable Development”, 2015 provides an important opportunity to highlight water’s role in the sustainable development agenda.
Water is a finite resource that is fundamental to human well-being. Only renewable if well-managed, 2015’s theme draws attention to the role water plays in strengthening social, economic and environmental systems.
Where did World Water Day come from?
In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March as the first World Water Day. More than two decades later, it is celebrated around the world to shine the spotlight on a different issue every year.
The day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The day has also become a popular Facebook and Twitter trend, with the hashtag #WorldWaterDay.
As the perils of climate change increasingly threaten the planet, the international community must unite in “a spirit of urgent cooperation” to address the many water-related challenges facing humanity, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared today.
In his message marking the 2015 edition of World Water Day, observed annually on 22 March, the Secretary-General warned that access to safe drinking water and sanitation was among “the most urgent issues” affecting populations across the globe.
“The onset of climate change, growing demand on finite water resources from agriculture, industry and cities, and increasing pollution in many areas are hastening a water crisis that can only be addressed by cross-sectoral, holistic planning and policies – internationally, regionally and globally,” Mr. Ban affirmed.
Despite progress under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), some 750 million people, or more than 1 in 10 of the world’s population, remain without access to an improved water supply, the UN has reported.
Mr. Ban added that women and children are particularly affected, compromising their overall health and exposing them to numerous hazards during the “unproductive and sometimes dangerous business of collecting water.”
Moreover, the statistics on sanitation remain “even less encouraging” as some 2.5 billion people around the world still live without improved sanitation while another one billion practise open defecation.
In his message, the Secretary-General also warned that the gains made by the international community in working towards a sustainable future were “jeopardized” by climate change – an imminent threat that Member States were prepared to tackle head-on in December when they gather in Paris to draft “a meaningful, universal climate agreement.”
“To address the many challenges related to water, we must work in a spirit of urgent cooperation, open to new ideas and innovation, and prepared to share the solutions that we all need for a sustainable future,” Mr. Ban stated. “If we do so, we can end poverty, promote global prosperity and well-being, protect the environment and withstand the threat of climate change.”
The dire straits facing the world’s water situation were further amplified in the UN’s 2015 World Water Development report, released by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and in time for today’s World Water Day celebrations.
According to the report, the planet will face a 40 per cent shortfall in water supply in 2030 unless the international community “dramatically” improves water supply management. Demand for water is slated to skyrocket 55 per cent by 2050 while 20 per cent of global groundwater is already overexploited.
As a result, the report has urged the international community to devote an entire sustainable development goal to water itself – from issues of water governance and quality to wastewater management and the prevention of natural disasters.
Sanjay Wijesekera, head of the UN Children Fund’s (UNICEF) global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene programmes, similarly cautioned about the dangerous disparities in water access around the globe, noting that despite “tremendous progress in the face of incredible odds,” there was still more to do.
“Water is the very essence of life and yet three-quarters of a billion people – mostly the poor and the marginalized – still today are deprived of this most basic human right,” Mr. Wijesekera said in a press release.
On average, nearly 1,000 children die every day from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, or poor hygiene. In addition, in three countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Papua New Guinea – more than half the population do not have improved drinking water.
In an effort to raise greater awareness about the importance of improving water quality and access, UNICEF has launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #wateris, the agency’s press release added.
Also marking the Day, the Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, called for the UN’s post-2015 development agenda to boost incentives for governments, providers and donors to expand their reach to those still struggling with water access.
“We need to aim for a higher rate of progress for disadvantaged groups, otherwise we will not achieve access for all in the foreseeable future,” Mr. Heller stated. “The world will see real achievement and ‘leave no one behind’ only when the efforts of the post-2015 agenda reach and impact the lives of the most disadvantaged groups.”
Facts about the water crisis
- Roughly 75% of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production.
- There are 658 million people living without access to water in Africa.
- By 2035, the global energy demand is projected to grow by more than one-third.
- Diarrhoea caused by inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hand hygiene kills an estimated 842,000 people every year globally, which is 2,300 people per day.
- 750 million people lack access to clean water, which is over double the population of the United States.
- The water crisis is the number one global risk based on impact to society (as a measure of devastation) and the eighth global risk based on likelihood (likelihood of occurring within ten years), according to the World Economic Forum.
- 82% of those who lack access to improved water live in rural areas, while 18% live in urban areas.
More info at World Water Day 2015