World Water Day, March 22nd, 2015

In 1993, March 22 was deesignated as World Water Day by the United Nations General Assembly.  In 2015, the theme for World Water Day is ‘Water and Sustainable Development’.

Dangerous disparities in water access exist around the globe. Three-quarters of a billion people, mostly the poor and the marginalized, are still deprived of a most basic human right of safe drinking water. Nearly 1,000 children continue to die every day from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, or poor hygiene.

The World Water Development Report warns demand for water around the world will increase by 55% over the next 15 years. With current supplies, that means only 60% of the world’s water needs will be met in 2030. The reasons for the shortfall include climate change, which causes irregular rainfall and dwindling underwater reserves. The results of the shortage could have a  devastating impact on agriculture, ecosystems, economies, and health. New policies focusing on water conservation, and more optimal treatment of wastewater, will be needed to alleviate some of the shortfall.

 A young girl fetches water from a hand pump
 in an impoverished settlement in New Delhi, March 21, 2015.
(India World Water Day Altaf Qadri—AP)

Charles Fishman, in The Big Thirst (2011), reminds us that, unlike other natural resources, water is not being “used up”.  All the water that existed on earth billions of years ago, still exists on the planet today, thought it may have changed states (between “molecular water” fused into rock 400 miles deep in the Earth, liquid, ice, and vapor states).   While water itself is not becoming more scarce it’s disappearing from some of the places people have been accustomed to finding it, reappearing somewhere else.

 Fishman suggests there is not “a global water crisis”, but many distinct local, regional crises, whose solutions must be local and regional. Local water problems cannot be solved by conservation in other areas of the world. But instead of relieving us or responsibility for our water habits and behavior, it means we must learn to take responsibility for our local water issues, becuase not one else on earth can or will. We have te technology to clean water to levels we need and within watersheds to deliver water where it needs to be.

He suggests that water scarcity is often the result of poor water management.  Agriculture uses close to two thirds of all water used today, and nearly half of that is wasted, especially in developing countries, ultimately undermining global food production. As old, leaky water systems are replaced, water efficiency should improve. And not all water needs to be cleaned to drinking-water quality standards, including water used for flushing toilets, washing cars, watering lawns,…   Fisherman identifies advances under way, from harvesting rainwater to the brilliant innovations devised by companies making impressive breakthroughs in water productivity.  Knowing what to do is not as big a challenge as changing our “water consciousness”.