2010 World Water Day

  • Posted on: 22 March 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

March 22 is World Water Day.  Growing up, like many others, I did not appreciate how lucky I was to have clean, safe water.  We need it to drink and become sick if we do not have it.  We need it for agriculture and would become hungry without it.  We need it for washing, bathing, and clean health care facilities.  Likewise we need sanitation and hygiene to protect food, water, and health.  One billion people around the world still lack clean drinking water and 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  World Water Day is an opportunity to ask what we can do in the year ahead to address the world's water crisis. 


The first World Water Day was held in 1993.  Some progress has been made since then.  According to a UNICEF/WHO report on global water and sanitation, 1.3 billion more people have access to improved sanitation than 1990.  However, an estimated 1.1 billion people still defecate outdoors, with eight out of 10 of them living in 10 countries."  Some other water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) statistics below:


-Around 90 percent of diarrhea cases, which kill some 2.2 million people every year, are caused by unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene.


-Over 50 percent of malnutrition cases globally are associated with diarrhoea or intestinal worm infections.


-Over half the world's hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from illnesses linked to contaminated water.


-Almost 900 million people lack access to safe drinking water, and an estimated 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. 


-Ninety percent of the wastewater discharged daily in developing countries is untreated. Eighty percent of all marine pollution originates on land – most of it wastewater - damaging coral reefs and fishing grounds. 


-People in developed countries generate five times more wastewater per person than those in developing countries, but treat over 90 percent of their wastewater, compared to only a few percent in developing countries.


-Agriculture accounts for 70 to 90 percent of all water consumed, mainly for irrigation, but large amounts return to rivers as run-off; nearly half of all organic matter in wastewater comes from agriculture.


According to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki Moon, more people die from unsafe water each year than from all violence including war. Every 20 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease - 1.8 million children younger than five years each year.  This alarming figure is from a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which also states millions of tons of solid waste are being flushed into water systems every day, spreading disease.  The UNEP report documents the detrimental health effects caused by contaminated water. According to the report, "diarrhea, mostly from dirty water, kills around 2.2 million people a year...and over half the world's hospital beds are occupied with people suffering from illnesses linked with contaminated water,'" the news service writes.


Ban Ki Moon also highlighted the role of pollution and climate change, stating “Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste into the world’s water systems…clean water has become scarce and will become even scarcer with the onset of climate change."  Ban called for a greater focus on water-related issues to achieve internationally the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – an agenda for poverty reduction agreed to by world leaders in 2000 and concluding in 2015. 


Water and sanitation are key to a healthy and productive society.  For every US$ 1 invested in water and sanitation, there is a projected US$3-US$34 economic development return. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “It may seem like an overwhelming challenge but there are enough solutions where human ingenuity allied to technology and investments in nature’s purification systems – such as wetlands, forests and mangroves – can deliver clean water for a healthy world.” 


The World Water Day 2010 coalition will kick off two days of activities in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 22 including a day of advocacy on Tuesday, March 23.  Supporting partners include: Action Against Hunger, AED, Africare, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, charity: water, Earth Day Network, Global Water, Global Water Challenge, H2O for Life, InterAction, Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, Millennium Water Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, ONE, PATH, P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, Project Concern International, PSI, US Coalition for Child Survival, WaterAid, Water.org, Water Advocates, Water and Sanitation Program, Water For People, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and World Vision.


There are many ways you can get involved.  Some ideas from the World Water Day website are copied below:


First, Participate in World Water Day lobbying activities: Meet with Congressional offices on March 23rd in Washington DC and let them know that we need greater U.S. leadership on access to drinking water and sanitation for the world’s poor.  Join supporters from across the country on March 23rd to call on Congress to increase support for sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene programs that save lives and lift countless people out of poverty. Lack of access to safe water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene education pose a major threat to human health. More than 4,000 children die each day as a result of diarrheal disease directly caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. WASH programs are an extremely cost effective way of preventing these deaths and improving the overall health and productivity of millions of people worldwide.


Meet with Congressional offices on March 23rd and let them know that we need greater U.S. leadership on this crucial issue. Be a voice for the nearly 1 billion people in the developing world who lack access to clean drinking water and the 2.5 who lack basic sanitation. World Water Day reps will provide you with the information and tools you need to be a good advocate.  Advocacy day begins with a morning training session open to all who care about water, sanitation, and hygiene.


In the afternoon, you and other WASH supporters will meet with Congressional offices, seeking additional support for international WASH programs and funding. The day will also feature an event on Capitol Hill with exhibitions on successful WASH programs from around the world. This will provide you an opportunity to see the great work of a variety of organizations working on WASH issues.  In this exhibition space, there will also be a lunchtime briefing for Members of Congress, their staff, you and other advocates, and the general public. At the briefing, experts will discuss critical issues related to WASH and its impacts on people’s health.  Can't make it?  Remember that you can be an advocate for water issues year round.


Second, Join the Queue and Make a Stand for Sanitation & Water: Be part of the global action to make a stand for sanitation and water on World Water Day by joining the World’s Longest Toilet Queue on Capitol Hill. Join a Guinness World Record attempt – and help solve a global crisis at the same time.  Come to Capitol Hill at 1pm (exact location on attached map) and be part of the global action to make a stand for sanitation and water. Students, teachers, educators, politicians and celebrities will be on hand to join you in line!  Organizers will provide the photographer, the toilets and the Queue (as well as music, games and refreshments!) So put it on your calendar. Spend your lunch break on March 23rd to demand action to save lives! Be a voice for the poor and vulnerable around the world who lack access to the basic necessities of water and sanitation.


Third, Write your Representative and urge stronger support of WASH efforts.  You can find contact information for elected officials in your state and district here


Fourth, Use your social networks to spread the word about water and sanitation.  You can use new media such as Facebook or Twitter or you can spread the world through your place of worship, office, Rotary Club, or community organizations.


Fifth, Raise money.  Learn more at the Global WASH Action Atlas, which includes projects in Haiti.


Sixth, Let your voice be heard.  Enter the World Water Day writing contest sponsored by The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Helium.com The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is partnering with Helium to get your voice heard on the most pressing issues of the day. We want to know your thoughts on questions raised by Pulitzer Center-sponsored reporting projects around the globe – and the winning essays will be showcased on the Pulitzer Center’s website and on Helium. Winning writers will also receive a Pulitzer Center Global Issues/Citizen Voices Award.


When selecting the winner from the top 10 ranked entries on Helium, the Pulitzer Center especially values vivid, well-articulated essays that reflect unusual insight, a clear point of view and, where appropriate, original reporting. Anything fictionalized or not based on the writer’s own observations should be clearly marked as such in the body of the text. The deadline for the World Water Day Writing Contest is Wednesday March 31. The Pulitzer Center Global Issues/Citizen Voices Award in this contest will be announced on Friday April 9.  The question to be addressed is “Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation claims 4,500 lives a day. What should we do about it?” For global background, take a look at the National Geographic Special on water issues around the world.


Even before the earthquake, a lack of clean water was arguably public health threat number one.  It was also a burden on women and children who are disproportionately responsible for collecting it.  As a result of the earthquake, the situation is now more serious in Port au Prince and its environs and will become more so as the rainy season begins.  Water and sanitation systems outside of Port au Prince have been strained by the 600,000 displaced who are staying with friends and families in the countryside and in secondary cities.  WASH will require long term attention, committment, and resources to address - it will also require leadership from the Haitian government, which has a responsibility to deliver affordable basic services, particularly to those who need them most.  Prior to the earthquake, those who could least afford water often were charged the most for it.  This must change.


You can learn more on the websites of organizations promoting WASH in Port au Prince and elsewhere.  This includes International Action, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam International, The United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF), ACF, ACTED, CARE, Concern, the International Rescue Committee, The World Health Organization, and Population Services International.  It also includes donors active in promoting WASH in Haiti such as USAID and DFID and Haitian government agencies such as Direction Nationale de l'Eau Potable et Assainissement (DINEPA).  You can read updates and see contact lists for all WASH Haiti EQ responders here. Water.org also has Haiti related information.


Please feel free to post your thoughts on/plans for the 2010 World Water Day in the comments section below.  Thanks!


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