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Going Green

World Water Day 2013

by Michael Evans 22 Mar 2013
World Water Day 2013

International Year of Water Cooperation; Credit: © Shutterstock

Water is vital to life. Doctors say that while it is possible to survive for up to 8 weeks without food, the survival limit without water is a mere 3 to 5 days.

Water is a vital resource like no other, but it is not confined to political boundaries. It is estimated that 148 countries have international river basins within their territory, with rivers forming the borders between 276 nations and river basins being shared. Two-thirds of these river basins are shared by two countries, but many are shared by more than two, with the Danube having the distinction of forming an international border to 18 countries.

Africa has about a third of the world's major international water basins. Virtually all the sub-Saharan African countries, including Egypt, share at least one international river basin.

Water is so precious that international agreements on water supply date back to 1820. There are now around 450 of these agreements and over 90 were drawn up to help manage shared water basins in Africa. In many cases they are regarded as being more important than international conflict. The Indus Water Treaty for instance, that was signed in 1960, has survived three major conflicts and continues to remain in operation.

It was in 1992 that the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recommended an international day to celebrate fresh water. The UN General Assembly responded by designating 22nd March 1993 as the first World Water Day.

Each year World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of fresh water and the theme for 2013 is Co-operation around Water.

This year World Water Day has added significance because in December 2010, the UN General Assembly declared that 2013 would be the United Nations International Year of Water Co-operation. UNESCO is coordinating both the day and the year.

The slogan for the year, Water, Water Everywhere, Only if We Share, was chosen from among 12,151 proposals sent in by 5,654 people from 180 countries.

UNESCO first began to address water issues as long ago as 1956, but it was the International Hydrological Programme in 1975 that brought the first UN intergovernmental initiative on freshwater.

This programme relies on a network of 18 water-related centres and 29 UNESCO water-related chairs. There are three strands:

  • hydrological science

  • education

  • capacity building

    An important feature is the PCCP programme - from Potential Conflict to Co-operative Potential.

    Co-operation is crucial, not only to ensure the sustainable and equitable distribution of water, but also to foster and maintain peaceful relations within and among communities. This can be at government level, where important policy decisions need to be made; at community level where users can co-operate through users' associations; at trans-boundary level where joint management institutions can help to distribute and protect shared resources and at international level where various UN agencies can work together to promote a sustainable management of water worldwide.

    There are a number of key messages that are equally applicable both to World Water Day and to the International Year of Water Co-operation.

  • Water co-operation is key to security, poverty eradication, social equality and gender equality.

  • Water co-operation generates economic benefits.

  • Water co-operation is crucial to preserve water resources and protect the environment

  • Water co-operation builds peace.

    We have to remember that 85% of the world's population live in the driest half of the planet. 780 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.

    Rises in global population coupled with changing diets results in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050. In addition to a larger population requiring more water, the need to increase agricultural output will substantially increase both water and energy consumption. This will undoubtedly lead to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.

    This of course does not take into account the effects of climate change, where water stress is predicted to increase in central and southern Europe. By the 2070's the predicted number of people who will be affected is expected to rise from 28 million to 44 million.

    It is clear that the world's population cannot just sit back and hope for the best. There are very challenging times ahead and days such as World Water Day, coupled with longer term initiative in the International Year of Water Co-operation will hopefully bring home to people that while there is indeed water, water everywhere - it just needs to be shared out a bit more fairly and that is the difficult part.

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