Updated: Oct 16, 2021
A staggering 784 million people live without access to clean water. That is about 1 in 10 people on Earth. March 22 is World Water Day, a day to consider the impact of clean water and raise awareness on the global water crisis. This year, World Water Day will focus on the theme ‘Valuing Water.’ This focus will extend beyond pricing issues to include the environmental, social, and cultural values of water.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 1992, which declared March 22 the World Day for Water starting in 1993, by the recommendation of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Each year, UNCED highlights the importance of freshwater.
Water is under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands of agriculture and industry, and the worsening climate change impacts.
Climate change disrupts weather patterns, leading to extreme weather events and unpredictable water availability. Climate change also exacerbates water scarcity and contaminates water supplies. Rising temperatures can lead to deadly pathogens in freshwater sources, making the water dangerous for people to drink. Increasing demands of culture, as previously mentioned, is a threat to the water supply. Improper agricultural methods may elevate concentrations of nutrients, leading to eutrophication of water bodies, = eventually damaging aquatic ecosystems.
Every year, UN-Water) coordinates the UN international observances on freshwater and sanitation. On World Water Day, UN-Water releases the World Water Development Report focusing on the same topic as the campaign.
Water Crisis Disproportionately Affects Women, Children
Women are disproportionately affected by the water crisis, as they are often responsible for collecting water. The hours of collecting water add up and take time away from work, school, and caring for their families. The lack of water and sanitation locks women in a cycle of poverty.
Empowering women is critical to solving the water crisis. When women have access to safe water at home, they can pursue more beyond their traditional cultural roles. They have time to work and add to their household income. Today, women around the world will spend a collective 200 million hours collecting water. In addition to time spent collecting water, millions may also spend significant amounts of time finding a place to go, which makes up an additional 266 million hours lost because they have no toilet at home.
According to UNICEF, a UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, 6,000 children die of water-related diseases every day. UNICEF works in more than 100 countries to provide safe water, sanitation, and hygiene services to the world’s most vulnerable communities, whether by delivering safe water after a disaster or promoting proper hygiene practices in schools and neighborhoods. Young children are the first to get sick and die from waterborne and sanitation-related illnesses—including diarrhoeal diseases and malaria. Access to safe water and sanitation contributes to improved health and helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The availability of clean water reduces child and maternal mortality rates and physical injury from constant lifting and carrying heavy water containers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to safe water is even more critical to the health of families around the world.
Children, alongside women, collect water for their families, taking time away from school and play. Proper sanitation reduces the amount of time that children spend on the responsibility of gathering water. Having access to safe water gives children time to play and grow as children and results in more opportunities. Studies have found that children who spend less time collecting water have better school attendance, especially girls.
Each year, the lack of water and basic sanitation costs the world $260 billion. Sanitation at home turns time spent into time saved, giving families more time to pursue education and work opportunities that will help them break the cycle of poverty.
As we observe World Water Day, several organizations, such as UN-Water and WHO, are bringing awareness to the international water crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized agency of the UN, is responsible for international public health. WHO conducts water projects and informs the public on the benefits of water and sanitation improvements globally.
The World Water Day website has resources, videos, and stories to learn more about this year’s theme, initiatives, and how to get involved. Some suggestions include practicing responsible water use during your morning routine. Taking a shower uses an average of 15 fewer gallons of water than filling up a bathtub, and shutting off the faucet while you brush your teeth or scrub your hands during washing can save almost 400 gallons of water a month.
Planting trees, recycling goods, and spreading information about the water crisis are all simple ways to contribute to the cause. While planting trees, water is redistributed along root systems, allowing trees to filter water and make water available to plants with shallow root systems. Trees above 5 meters in height (known as tree cover) also prevent evaporation from rivers, reservoirs and soil, saving water for drinking and agriculture. This is one beneficial way to conserve the clean water supply. Additionally, recycling helps conserve water because while goods such as plastic shopping bags are made, extracting and manufacturing raw materials into single use packaging uses quite a bit of water. Choose to help your community this year on World Water Day!