In honor of World Water Day on March 22 I wanted to give you a brief history on World Water Day. Before I do that let’s look at some facts about water and the worldwide water (and sanitation) crisis:
- If you look at all the water in the world you’d find that:
- 97.5% of it is saltwater and therefore cannot be used for drinking water (it could be desalinated, but this is costly and takes a lot of energy, plus you need to find something to do with all the brine, a byproduct of the process).
- The remaining 2.5% is fresh water, however, 70% of that is frozen in ice caps, and almost 30% is locked deep underground.
- This means less than 1% of the world’s fresh water is easily accessible to humans via lakes, shallow aquifers, rivers, streams and the like.
- 3.4 million people die every year from water and sanitation related diseases, which is like the entire population of Los Angeles dying. 99% of these deaths are in developing nations.
- 780 million people, about 2.5 times the population of the US, do not have access to clean and safe water. 40% of these people are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Children suffer the most. Waterborne diseases kill 4,500 children EVERY DAY on average!!!
- Think war is bad? The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives every year than any war does.
- Next time you’re enjoying your shower think of this: the average American taking a five minute shower (and I would guess most Americans take showers that last longer than five minutes) uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses (or has access to) in an entire day.
- Do you like going for a daily walk? On average women and girls in developing countries walk 3.7 miles (6 km) every day to fetch water, and carry 20 liters (a little over 5 gallons) of water back to their home.
- 20 liters of water weighs 44 lbs. Think you could walk almost 2 miles carrying 44 lbs? Try it and let me know how it goes.
- The hours spent fetching water could be used to go to school, go to work, attend to the household chores, grow crops…basically anything. People cannot escape poverty if they don’t have the time to get educated or hold a job and make a living.
- Here’s a great infographic from the UN with some more facts:
Now that we know about the problem let’s get back to talking about World Water Day. World Water Day was started in 1993 by United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness about the importance of water and the crisis that impacts millions of people around the world, and to promote the sustainable use of water. Over time it has become more popular and each year people around the world gather on this day and have art and music celebrations centered on water, hold conferences and educational talks on water, have events to raise money to be used to help people gain access to clean water, organize walks and runs to raise awareness and money, and take to their local lake, river, or stream to enjoy this precious resource. If you want to find events in your area click here: World Water Day Events. If you do end up doing something please leave me a comment and let me know what you did.
Each year World Water Day has a different theme. Past themes include Water for Cities, Water Quality, Water Scarcity, and Water and Culture to name a few. For 2013 the theme is Water Cooperation. Water is used to grow food, to produce energy, for industrial use, and for domestic use among other things. However, the distribution of water between these different uses is far from equal, and as our population continues to grow the amount of water required is growing too. Therefore, cooperation between these uses is essential to manage the water that is available in a sustainable and efficient way.
Also, the amount of fresh water available varies significantly depending on where you are in the world. As a result one area that will be a focus of this year’s World Water Day is transboundary water sources and the proper management of those sources so that everyone gets their fair share. There are 276 transboundary river basins in the world, and throughout history countries have struggled to agree on how these sources of water are shared. These struggles continue today: between China, Tibet, India, and Bangladesh over the Brahmaputra River; Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia over the Mekong River; Isreal, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan over the Jordan River; and between Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya over the Nile River. To keep the peace between neighboring countries cooperation is essential to manage how much water each can take, and for what use.
Another source of stress between nations is the building of dams because of the fact that dams impede the flow of water, and therefore (possibly) leave the downstream countries with less water than what they have traditionally had to work with. Cooperation is also essential to lessen the impact of a dam on the citizens of the country it’s being built in. The Three Gorges Dam in China displaced 1.2 million people. The Gibb III Dam in Kenya will change the flow of water into Lake Turkana, changing its biodiversity, and impact the livelihood of thousands of people that depend on the lake for their livelihoods. Right now there is a battle going on in Brazil over the Belo Monte Dam which will displace 20,000-40,000 people and divert 80% of the Xingu River’s flow. Usually the people being displaced or impacted are from indigenous or poor communities that have little voice. Although it is difficult, cooperation is essential to mitigate the impact on these communities and let their voices be heard (or the world can just stop building huge mega-dams, that’s my recommendation).
Cooperation is something that everyone learns at an early age for a very important reason: throughout your life you’re going to have to cooperate with people every day. I think Water Cooperation is a great theme for this year’s World Water Week and will bring attention to some very important issues, and hopefully lead to some real progress.
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Well, as often happens I started this article with the intention of writing only about the history of World Water Day and it turned into less about the history and more about this year’s World Water Day and the water crisis. Either way, I hope you enjoyed reading, and have a great World Water Day.
A little side note, I started this website as a way to raise awareness about the water and sanitation crisis because I truly believe that is the only way to end the suffering and death of millions of people. Although I am in full support of World Water Day and think it is a great way to make people aware of the water crisis I have to ask myself why does it take a special day for that to happen? Why aren’t more people paying attention to this devastating crisis and doing something about it? Every day I find articles in obscure publications about water and sanitation related issues, but why aren’t they being talked about on CNN or BBC on a daily basis? Do people not care? How can we ignore this? One day down the line, when everyone has clean water and good sanitation, we’re going to look back and wonder what the hell took us so long.
With that in mind please share this, talk to people about the crisis, have a fundraiser, do something. The people that are suffering through this crisis are for the most part voiceless, but you can be their voice and tell their story.