“Wash your hands when you get home, and keep scrubbing them for at least 20 seconds” – that is good advice, with or without the coronavirus. However, there is one big problem: more than 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in regions where water is scarce and is increasingly becoming more so.
According to the United Nations, over two billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources, and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. Today, with Covid-19 present in every continent except Antarctica, washing hands as they should be washed is a difficult challenge in many developing countries. Clean water and soap are often in short supply, and many slum dwellers live in homes without running water. As the world confronts the coronavirus pandemic, clean and accessible water for all has become all the more essential.
March 22 is World Water Day, designated so by the UN to measure the world’s progress towards providing everyone with clean water for drinking and hygiene. Let us look at the history and importance of World Water Day:
History of World Water Day
In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio de Janeiro. That same year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution by which March 22 of each year was declared World Day for Water, to be observed starting 1993.
Later on, other celebrations and events were added. For instance, the International Year of Cooperation in the Water Sphere 2013, and the current International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028. These observances serve to reaffirm that water and sanitation measures are key to poverty reduction, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.
Why World Water Day is celebrated
World Water Day is an international observance day. The intention is to inspire people around the world to learn more about water-related issues and to take action to make a difference. In 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, or Covid-19, there is an additional focus on hand-washing and hygiene.
Issues include water scarcity, water pollution, inadequate water supply, lack of sanitation, and the impact of climate change.
World Water Day 2020 theme
The theme for 2020 is ‘Water and Climate Change’ and explores how the two issues are inextricably linked. In view of the growing Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 campaign also promoted messages around hand-washing and hygiene and gave guidance on staying safe while supporting the campaign.
“The global Covid-19 outbreak, once again, highlights how challenging uncertainties can be. Climate change and its effect on water resources impact human and natural environment just as unpredictably. Our best defence at the moment is to step-up water resource management,” says Kangkanika Neog, programme associate, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).
How the world celebrates Water Day
World Water Day is celebrated around the world with a variety of events. These can be educational, theatrical, musical or lobbying in nature. The day can also include campaigns to raise money for water projects.
A video campaign by Grundfos India advocates the sustainable use of energy resources. The theme is ‘Use energy efficiently’. Small acts can make a big difference. Wienerberger India, Berger Paints and other firms have also joined hands to promote responsible water consumption.
How real is the fresh-water crisis?
According to the UN, more than 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in regions where water is becoming increasingly scarce, and that figure is likely to rise. Every day, nearly 1,000 children die from preventable water- and sanitation-related diseases. Drought afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition. According to technology product company 3M India, "the looming water crisis is a wake-up call for India, with over 600 million people facing high to extreme rate of water stress”.
Let us look at some instances to understand how real the freshwater crisis is:
1. In 2019, residents of Chennai had to queue up for water delivered by tanker trucks because the city’s reservoirs were empty. A drought, worsened by climate change, had almost exhausted local supplies. Chennai, home to 7 million people, still faces severe shortages, and might exhaust its groundwater within a few years.
“India’s water demand will surpass supply by the end of this decade. This World Water Day is a call to action for each one of us to make well informed choices regarding our water consumption habits,” according to Grundfos India.
2. In rural Mexico, some 5 million people lack access to clean water. Women and children collect water, taking time that could be spent in school or on some other activity. Meanwhile, men decide how water rights are allocated.
Solution to end the water crisis
To improve sanitation and access to drinking water, there needs to be increased investment in freshwater management and sanitation facilities in developing countries within Central Asia, Southern Asia, Eastern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South-Eastern Asia.
Here's how you can help
"Over 40 per cent of water gets wasted because of errors, leakages and inefficient controls across consumer and industrial levels, thus impeding access to water across all strata of the society and has grave implications for the environment," according to Danfoss India.
So, the least you can do is – don't waste water. Use water efficiently. You can help by:
• Turning off faucets when not in use
• Shortening the length of showers
• Using low-flow toilets
• Watering plants by hand rather than hose