World Water Day is an annual United Nations observance day, held on 22 March. This day highlights the importance of freshwater in our everyday lives and it uses the opportunity to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The first World Water Day was celebrated in 1993.
The theme in 2020, ‘Water and Climate Change’, explores how water and climate change are inextricably linked. The climate crisis is a water crisis. The way how the global warming influences the water cycle is likely the most dangerous consequence. The results are already visible in ravaging floods and droughts.Some other impacts include melting of polar snow and ice which in turn contributes to rising sea levels, unpredictable rainfall patterns, not to mention other extreme weather conditions.
With the rise of global population, the water demand rises as well. This is seen in the natural resource depletion and in damaging of the environment. However, there is a solution. For example, we can already invest more in protecting carbon sinks (oceans and wetlands), adopt climate-smart agricultural techniques, and strive for safe wastewater reuse.
Among other rising issues falls the consequences of the one-degree Celsius temperature increase that scientists expected to start occurring with at least two-degree Celsius temperature rise. These consequences have made a lot more people aware of the current situation and the urgent need to adapt, in order for the temperature to stabilize below one and a half degrees Celsius. However, this has proven to be a difficult task. According to the UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2019, global climate commitments must increase more than fivefold in the coming decade.
What role does a water play in all of this? A tremendously important one, and here’s why:
- A rapid climate change has made the world to be more unpredictable, therefore increasingly dangerous on a global level (wildfires, droughts, etc.). Current restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic helped tremendously to reduce global emissions. But we need permanent solutions and we can find them in water multitasking opportunities. Take forests and wetlands for example. Their carbon sinking and groundwater recharging abilities are additionally backed with the ability to buffer against storms. Mangrove forests can hold the equivalent of two years of global greenhouse gas emissions and protect coastal cities at the same time.
- Almost all the major impacts of climate change are felt through water. Disaster risk reduction of floods, droughts or extreme weather need to be mitigated through measures and policies on a national level to prevent further damage.
- With our population constantly growing rises the demand for resources among which water is one of the most important. Water conflict, a new term that might become a reality soon, starting as a small local dispute and quickly growing into something with a potential to influence even whole nations. This is probably one of the most frightening effects of climate change and bad water governance. On the other side, water as a resource is capable of joining countries together to develop an efficient climate strategy and save lives.
- The alterations we make in many parts of our world are often quite negative or even irreversible. Unsurprisingly, this has proven to be an issue with large bodies of water, wetlands and forests as they are our main carbon sinks that can save us, together with other means of sustainable measures. In 2019, two assessment reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrated why climate policy must focus on oceans, resilient landscapes and how to keep the water cycle in balance. The promise was made to develop nature-based solutions and leave some parts of the world untouched.
Sustainable Development Goals
World Water Day is a great opportunity to reintroduce our measurable effort to tackle the environmental issues, Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6): sanitation and water. SDG 6 belongs to the group of 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. This goal is focused on clean water and sanitation for all people around the world. Its official motto is: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” There are eight targets within this goal, out of which six are to be achieved by 2030, one by 2020, and the last one has no target year whatsoever. Their progress is measured by eleven indicators.
These eight goals cover the whole water cycle including: "provision of drinking water (target 6.1), and sanitation and hygiene services (6.2), treatment and reuse of wastewater and ambient water quality (6.3), water-use efficiency and scarcity (6.4), IWRM including through transboundary cooperation (6.5), protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems (6.6), international cooperation and capacity-building (6.a), and participation in water and sanitation management (6.b).
Out of these, the first three targets focus on water supply as well as sanitation:
- By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water.
- By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls, and those in vulnerable situations.
- By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, having the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
Time for action
There is no time to wait. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Warnings are necessary. But fear will not get the job done.” Climate delay is almost as dangerous as climate denial. In order to prevent even bigger catastrophes, all the countries in the world must join their forces and work faster. If left unchecked, our actions will cause the climate to deplete our water sources, either by draining them or polluting them with our own waste. Humans need water to survive, as do all the systems we rely on, like sanitation, healthcare, education, business and industry. We need to take a quick action on a globally coordinated scale with regards to safe and sustainable water management.
On the good note, there is a plethora of opportunities for us to use when countering climate change. They consist of a variety of sustainable, circular production systems that manage to use water with higher efficiency. On top of it all, there are many options that practically anyone can take to address the climate change, which means that everyone has a role to play! Hundreds of thousands of people are already taking individual action on climate change as part of the UN’s #ActNow campaign. Here are five changes we can all make today:
Take five-minute showers: Water scarcity already affects four out of ten people. With 80% of wastewater never being treated, taking shorter showers is a great way to save this precious resource.
Eat more plant-based meals: Dietary changes, featuring plant-based foods and sustainable animal-sourced food, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 8.0 gigatons a year of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Don’t throw away edible food: An estimated 1/3 of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste. Reducing your food wastage reduces demand on agriculture which is one of the biggest water consumers.
Turn off tech: Currently 90% of power generation is water intensive. By powering down our devices when we’re not using them, the less energy needs to be produced.
Shop sustainably: A typical pair of jeans takes 10,000 liters of water to produce, equal to what a person drinks in 10 years. Sourcing our goods from responsible sources can have a big impact on the consumption of water and other essential resources.
The more you know...
Free access to the Journal of Water & Climate Change
To celebrate UN Water’s global water crisis goal, IWA Publishing is offering a free access to the Journal of Water & Climate Change until 29 March 2020. Discover the journal here.
World Water Day Quiz
How much do you know about water and climate change? Click here to check your facts (and learn some more) with IWA Publishing's special World Water Day quiz, in partnership with UN Water!
Some more facts
- Today, 1 in 3 people – around 2.2 billion – live without safe drinking water.
- By 2050, up to 5.7 billion people could be living in areas where water is scarce for at least one month a year, creating unprecedented competition for water.
- Climate-resilient water supply and sanitation could save the lives of more than 360,000 infants every year.
- If we limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, compared to 2°C, we could cut climate-induced water stress by up to 50%.
- Extreme weather – expected to increase in frequency and intensity because of climate change – has caused more than 90% of major disasters over the last decade.
- By 2040, global energy demand is projected to increase by over 25% and water demand is expected to increase by more than 50%, primarily from manufacturing, electricity generation and households.
Find out more on World Water Day 2020s website.