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Climate Change

World Water Day: How to Value an Everyday Gift

by Judith Arrieta Munguia

March 22nd is World Water Day. This year, it asks us to create a water sustainable world by inspiring us to take individual action. How will you respond to this important call?

This year’s World Water Day focuses on how we value water. There are several ways to measure water’s value that goes beyond a mere capitalist pricing model, including the environmental, social and cultural values we place on our earth's most precious resource. Specifically, this resource serves as the foundation of our human-made infrastructures such as the economic, political, health and energy production systems. However, it goes even further, as water supports nature's essential biodiversity by fostering the biological connections between flora and fauna on Earth. As you can see, clean water is critical to every aspect of life, yet it is taken for granted in the United States. This shouldn't be the case. 

In fact, you may have already washed your hands several times today without even considering the value of an easy turn of your tap. However, this everyday and simple process can save thousands of lives as the global pandemic still casts a dark shadow over our entire planet. So, please be mindful of the fact that your access to water is not a given and the value of water in your home, workplace or community is a greater gift than you can even imagine. 

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Though many of us are blessed with clean water access, there is work to be done even in the world's greatest superpower. President Biden's Climate Plan highlights water quality and water quantity problems, mostly in communities of color, across the United States. Going beyond the U.S.'s perspective, taking care of our water resources is also a pressing challenge that increases each day across the globe making it a key bulwark in support of the global climate effort codified in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Although recent events have highlighted the need to ensure clean water for everyone, the roots of discussing global clean water impacts run deep. World Water Day has been celebrated since 1993, as a direct result of the United Nations Earth Summit which placed water access as a frame for sustainable development keeping in mind the importance of water's environmental, economic and social perspectives.  

Following these initial actions, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015, which specifically included Sustainable Development Goal 6water and sanitation. In order to successfully achieve clean water for everyone as stated in SDG 6, the UN and the World Bank launched the High-Level Panel on Water co-chaired by Mexico with 10 countries and eminent experts. By 2018, the panel had created the Valuing Water Initiative which aligns practical actions worldwide to help ensure water access by promoting the Valuing Water Principles to change policies, business practices and behaviors. Ultimately, these steps have provided awareness, education and empowerment for future generations to protect their water sources. 

A young resident of the informal settlement on the outskirts of Lawley, Johannesburg, on April 24, 2020 carries her buckets as she approaches a water tanks dispatched by the municipality to help the community to cope with water scarcity; Getty

A young resident of the informal settlement on the outskirts of Lawley, Johannesburg, on April 24, 2020 carries her buckets as she approaches a water tanks dispatched by the municipality to help the community to cope with water scarcity;

Getty

Understanding there is a global infrastructure at work to value water, we need to realize how dire the statistics are regarding the number of humans living without safe and adequate water resources. Today, 2.2 billion people live without safe water, 3 billion people lack basic handwashing facilities at home and most shockingly, 4.2 billion people live without access to safe sanitation facilities. Think about that, more than half the world's population lives without access to safe sanitation facilities this is precisely what makes the goals of World Water Day so important. 

Yet, these threats are only growing as the impacts of human-made climate change are getting worse in regions where water is already at risk. Increasing demands of agriculture, industry and unsustainable lifestyles lead to the very worst that climate change has to offer including droughts that undermine human health, food security and water quality as well as floods that destroy water and sanitation facilities and pollute critical water resources. The future isn't looking any better, water scarcity in some semi-arid and arid places may displace up to 700 million people and by 2040 1 in 4 of the world’s children, some 600 million, will be living in areas of extremely high water stress. 

People digging in a dry river to find water, omo valley, turmi, Ethiopia on March 12, 2016 in Turmi, Ethiopia; Getty

People digging in a dry river to find water, omo valley, turmi, Ethiopia on March 12, 2016 in Turmi, Ethiopia;

Getty

There is hope for a path forward and that is what this World Day is all about. So, what actions can we do as individuals to increase the valuing of water? Certainly making your home water efficient is a great place to start, but you can also sign up for the free social-art course of One Drop Foundation or support social enterprises that strive to expand clean water access to rural communities worldwide, whether as a volunteer, partner or as an investor. Most importantly, educate yourself on how to value water actions that impact climate change and read about the water policies that are supported by your local and national politicians—then vote in every election.

World Water Day is an everyday reminder to value water and to make choices that contribute to climate and water sustainability. In the end, the protection of the world's water resources is up to all of us and we need to make every drop count, but are we up to the task? Humanity will sink or swim based on how we determine the value of the answer to this very simple question. 

Judith Arrieta M. is Minister of the Mexican Foreign Service and currently Deputy Chief of the Embassy in India. She served at the Office of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and as Chief of Staff for Multilateral Affairs. She also coordinated development, economic and social issues at the missions of Mexico to the European Union in Brussels, and to the United Nations in Geneva and New York. She was appointed Sous-Sherpa to the High-Level Panel on Water for 2017-2018 and has published several articles on international issues

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