World Water Day
March 17, 2011
Q1: What is World Water Day?
A1: In 1993, the UN General Assembly designated March 22 as the World Day for Water. Recognizing the importance of water to health, environmental conservation, food security, and international relations, each year on March 22 organizations around the world commemorate World Water Day by working to raise awareness of ongoing global water challenges and by articulating solutions that can make a difference for the nearly 1 billion people worldwide who do not have access to an improved drinking water source and the 2.6 billion who do not have access to improved sanitation facilities.
Q2: What is the World Water Day theme this year?
A2: The 2011 theme is “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge.” This year the government of South Africa will host the official World Water Day celebration in Cape Town in cooperation with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), UN-Water, and several other UN organizations. Previous themes have included “Clean Water for a Healthy World” (2010), “Trans-boundary Water” (2009), “Sanitation” (2008), and “Coping with Water Scarcity” (2007).
Q3: Why are urban water issues important?
A3: Nearly half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and urban populations are growing. Globally, the number of people living in cities increases by two people each second. In developing countries, around 5 million people join the urban population each month. Yet at least 141 million city residents worldwide lack access to an improved drinking water source, and nearly 800 million urban dwellers lack access to improved sanitation facilities. The most vulnerable populations are the urban poor, who live in underserviced, often informal, settlements without consistent access to piped water supplies and who must pay high fees to purchase water from private suppliers, such as tanker trucks. Without access to sanitation, residents of impoverished urban communities must sometimes resort to defecating in plastic bags and then disposing of the waste by throwing the bags out into public space, leading to the “flying toilet” phenomenon. Where there are piped supplies, poor maintenance of aging infrastructure leads to contamination and leaks resulting in losses of up to 40 percent of available water from the system. The fact that some mega-cities, such as Mexico City and Delhi, depend on groundwater extraction to serve growing populations leads to a reduction in available water supplies over time. The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation in urban areas contributes to disease outbreaks, including cholera and diarrhea.
Q4: What is the world doing to address urban water challenges?
A4: At the municipal level, extending access to water supplies and sanitation facilities to populations living in areas where services are lacking; promoting maintenance of existing systems to reduce waste and leakage and ensure service consistency; and implementing activities to reduce water use and encourage good water resource stewardship are important goals. Innovative measures to help provide urban populations access to the water they need include developing pro-poor, participatory programs to ensure the inclusion of vulnerable groups in decisionmaking processes; implementing public-private financing schemes to provide funding for water and sanitation projects and maintenance; building wastewater treatment plants to enable the conservation and reuse of often scarce water resources; carrying out education campaigns to raise awareness regarding water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges; and encouraging the use of alternative water sources for irrigating recreational spaces in municipal areas.
Katherine E. Bliss directs the Project on Global Water Policy and is a senior fellow and deputy director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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