On 22nd of March, the UN world will be celebrating World Water Day by giving strong resonance water quality. Since 2007 UN-Water is actively promoting and organizing World Water Day to ensure a more coordinated approach among United Nations’ Organizations leading to additional attention and visibility for the theme, making sure that water issues are pushed high up in the political and the media agenda.
Previous years have set the spotlight on transboundary waters, sanitation and water scarcity, this year will set the focus on water quality, under the overall coordination of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
While in the past water availability has almost always taken the centre stage, posing the attention on quantity, no matter whether water was “clean” or not, this year an important shift is pushing the water availability’s concept a bit further. Water quality is forced into a picture that almost exclusively depicted about cubic meter per person and users’ allocation, leaving out those physical characteristics that make water availability far more meaningful. As a matter of fact, water quality is a parameter that has often received inadequate attention but good water quality is paramount to sustain healthy ecosystem and human wellbeing.
On March 22nd UN-Water intends to raise awareness on water quality, recognizing the urgency to address it worldwide, because quality matters as much as quantity.
Clean Water for a Healthy World is the slogan chosen among UN-Water members to stress how water quality is an absolute necessity for the world as a whole. The staggering truth is that waterborne diseases kill 1.5 million children each year, and two million tons of sewage and other liquid waste drain into the world’s water every day.
The World Water Day campaign is a year long operation harnessing the best UN knowledge and disseminating its messages at local and global level. The World Water Day website (www.worldwaterday2010.info) provides clear arguments and tools aiming at addressing different stakeholders, channelling efforts to reach policy makers and the public at large. Un-Water, with its members and partners, strongly supports this communication process fostering and promoting real actions to achieve long-term change.
The website also offers a public space to promote the community’s response to each year’s theme. People post their events, with every continent offering something to do. On March 22nd, all over the world somebody will be organizing events and people will celebrate World Water Day. UN-Water is willing to act as a catalyst to improve and accelerate this process. Whether it is a walk, a day-out cleaning river banks or measuring the chemicals present in the water, someone, somewhere is taking action involving other people, turning the happening into a “glocal” statement.
To celebrate World Water Day UNEP, in collaboration with UN-Habitat, UNSGAB and the Government of Kenya, will host a three-day event at the UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. These days will see journalists, prominent personalities, scientists as well as policy makers involved in a dialogue to address water quality from many different perspectives. UN-Water will launch its statement on water quality, a scientific panel will address challenges and responses, a high-level panel will discuss policy options and actions to improve water quality, and the outcomes of the event will be communicated, through a live web-cast, to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, also organizing an event to celebrate World Water Day.
Protecting water quality is a shared responsibility for the common benefit. Governments, municipalities, civil society, from individuals to local communities, together with international organizations must all take actions to prevent polluting our water sources. But man is not the only player in this game.
The impacts of climate change can heavily and easily compromise fragile ecosystems: prolonged droughts can dramatically reduce their ability to dilute polluted water, and with it trigger a chain reaction that can further severely stress, and therefore diminish, their natural functions. Coastal ecosystems are greatly at risk: mangroves, coral reefs and sea-grass beds are loosing their role of storm protectors and breeding and nursery grounds. In some regions we are already facing incredibly high risk of extinction for some fish species. This is why is so significantly important to act where we can: preventing, reducing and controlling pollution must be taken up at all level regardless of our role in society.
Through our lifestyle we have an impact on water quality and water quality has an impact on our lives. Some people’s wastewater is other people’s drinking water. Maintaining healthy ecosystems triggers a virtuous circle, for instance thriving natural wetlands act as filters for excessive nutrients and other toxic substances, providing cascading benefits, such as potable water or healthy fisheries, up to the service industry, such as tourism. Most important it costs more to clean up after pollution than keeping our water resources healthy.
In developing countries about 90% of sewage ends up untreated into rivers, polluting water and killing ecosystems. The cost of such pollution is counted in billions every year. Investing in water quality would have an incredible economic impact: the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that achieving the Millennium Development Goal for access to safe water and sanitation would bring an economic net benefit of US$ 84.4 billion a year.
But if the developing world pays the highest cost to poor water quality and lack of sanitation, it is the world as a whole that needs addressing this issue at global, national and local level. More research, monitoring as well as regulatory functions and compliance to rules on water quality hold the future of our wellbeing because... we all live downstream.