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The need to translate celebration into action

“Water means different things to different people.” This is how the official World Water Day website starts the “conversation” with its readers. We believe this statement to be true. Water means different things to different people, but what is common to any human being is that water is vital for our survival.

Today, more than 2.2 billion people have no access to safe, quality water. That is nearly 3 out of every 10 people.

World Water Day, observed on March 22 every year since 1993, celebrates water and raises awareness of the need to tackle the world water crisis so that all human beings might have access to safe freshwater.

Origins of World Water Day

The idea for World Water Day goes back to June 1992, when the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as Earth Summit, took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

world water day rio janeiro

The Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992

The primary objective of the Rio Earth Summit was to produce a new blueprint for international action on environmental and development issues that would help guide international cooperation and development policy in the twenty-first century.

One of the major results of the UNCED was Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, governments, and other major groups.

This agenda gathered new strategies on:

  • Education
  • Preservation of natural resources
  • Investment for overall sustainable development

The UNCED has also influenced different events and actions to raise awareness, such as the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly whereby March 22 was declared World Water Day. 

Why celebrate an international water day?

International days are an opportunity to educate the general public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce human achievement.

UN-Water is the convener for World Water Day and the entity that mobilizes organizations of all kinds, both globally and locally.

In consultation with other UN organizations, it selects the annual theme related to each year’s focus. UN-Water also tackles relevant issues related to water, such as scarcity, pollution, inadequate supply, lack of sanitation, and the impacts of climate change (which was the theme of World Water Day 2020). This year the theme is “valuing water.”

World Water Day sheds light on the inequality of access to WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) services and the need to ensure the human right to water and sanitation.

Inequality of access to WASH – figures:

world water day access to water

2.2 billion people have no access to safe water

*Total World population

world water day sanitation

26% of the world population do not have basic sanitation facilities (toilets or latrines)

world water day darrhoeal deaths

432,000 diarrheal deaths annually are caused by inadequate sanitation

*1 : 100 000

world water day waste water

10% of the world’s population is thought to consume food irrigated by wastewater

Do international days actually achieve their goals or do they signify utopian ideals?

According to Elisa Stefan, Environmental Engineer, Researcher and Water Resources Management Specialist, “beyond romantic articles about how water is essential to life, the World Water Day is paramount to reflect on how far we are from world water safety.” “In many cities, water crises are becoming more frequent and urban rivers are dead. 790 million people (11% of the world’s population) are without access to an improved water supply. This is not a day to celebrate. It is a day to change and start to act.

Having an international day means having a space in the media agenda for raising awareness of the challenge, in order to generate a solution plan.

In words of Tom Freyberg, international water expert and journalist, “World Water Day is a great chance to focus global attention on water challenges.” “Whether it’s a lack of access to this vital service, quality concerns, losses or even climate-change driven extreme events, such as drought or flooding, “solving water” remains one of humanity’s most significant challenges.”

world water day engineers

Group of engineers building a drainage system

According to Mr. Freyberg, “We will not reach Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation for all by 2030)unless there is a coordinated effort between multiple stakeholders.” “We need a collective bias for action: not tomorrow, not for 2050, but today. Given the scale of the challenge ahead of us, we need every day to be a World Water Day.”

In this context, technology can be the best ally. Nowadays, gallons and gallons of treated water are lost due to inefficient water management. But using artificial intelligence to gather information and produce predictive analytics to make better decisions can be one of the best solutions possible.

So, if we are to guarantee quality water access to every human being, it’s time to translate celebration into action.

Given the scale of the challenge ahead of us, we need every day to be a World Water Day.

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