International Water Day Is An Important Reminder Of The Critical Role That Water Plays In Our Lives
By Christian B. Jantio*
International Water Day is celebrated every year on March 22nd to raise awareness about the importance of water and push for the sustainable development of freshwater resources. Water is essential to life and supports agriculture, industries, and our livelihoods. Unfortunately, the world is facing a growing water crisis, with many regions experiencing water scarcity, pollution, and poor water quality.
The water crisis is a complex issue that affects both developed and developing countries. Over 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and more than 4.2 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. In addition, water scarcity affects more than 40% of the world’s population, and is expected to increase as the global population continues to grow.
Climate change aggravates the water crisis by causing more frequent and severe droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events. These events can disrupt water supplies, destroy infrastructure, and contaminate water sources. The increasing demand for water from agriculture, industry, and domestic use also puts pressure on freshwater resources, leading to the overuse and depletion of water sources. In the United States, people in California suffer the effects of the increasing water demand. Climate change and high water demands put large amounts of stress on the state’s water supply, reducing it to 4% of its full capacity, according to Bloomberg.
Likewise in developing countries, the water crisis has significant implications for human health, the environment, and economic development. Waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery are responsible for millions of deaths annually, with children under five years old being the most vulnerable. The pollution of freshwater sources also affects aquatic ecosystems, leading to less biodiversity and the collapse of fisheries. Moreover, the water crisis can hinder economic growth and exacerbate poverty by reducing agricultural productivity and increasing the cost of water for industry and households.
There have been significant efforts to try to solve this global water crisis. Significant investments in improving water infrastructures, framework development, and other awareness campaigns have played a critical role in changing the direction of the water crisis. The United Nations also developed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015 which aim to transform our world by attacking poverty and inequality and providing sufficient health care and access to clean water. SDG 6, which is the goal to provide clean drinking water to the world, unifies all other goals as water governs economies, health care, and climate change.
Large corporations and organizations install wells and water pumps in rural areas of the world, to contribute to the fight against the water crisis. These large entities often refrain from creating maintenance systems for these wells and pumps, which go to waste after not receiving the proper care. In Malawi for example, many water pumps and wells have unfortunately suffered this fate. Culturally, certain villages in Malawi have a tradition to dance and celebrate whenever a water source arrives. But as the lifespans of the pumps and wells end and stop functioning correctly, their happiness is stolen away. This aspect of the water crisis was captured in a short documentary, created by Muthi Nhlema, founder and CEO of BaseFLOW. The victims in the village, who no longer have water pumps, are left to say, “they made us dance for this!”
For a country like Malawi, International Water Day is an opportunity to highlight the country’s ongoing water challenges and to promote sustainable solutions to address them. Malawi is a landlocked country in Southern Africa that is known for its freshwater resources, including the beautiful Lake Malawi. However, despite this abundance of freshwater, access to safe drinking water remains a major challenge for many people in Malawi.
Malawi currently has over 11 million people who require hand pumps or wells to access clean drinking water. However, over a third of those pumps or wells are non-operational. Though the potential for access to clean water is present, only about 40% of Malawi’s citizens have access to clean water, and this figure drops to 20% in rural areas, according to UNICEF. This problem is not only found in Malawi but all over the world. Experts have used the term “cosmetic charity,” where large entities do charitable acts for public engagement and is considered one of the driving obstacles to long-term access to clean water.
Overall, International Water Day is an important reminder of the critical role that water plays in our lives and the need for sustainable management of this precious resource. It is a reminder that water is a precious resource that must be protected and managed responsibly for the benefit of present and future generations. From California to Malawi, everyone is affected by the global water crisis, but by working together, we can ensure that everyone has access to safe and clean water and that freshwater resources are preserved for the future.
*Christian B. Jantio is President and CEO of Vidagua Foundation a U.S. based, non-profit organization that focuses on delivering clean drinking water to schools, homeless shelters in the United States and in impoverished communities in developing countries.