World Water Day
March 22, 2010
Q1: What is World Water Day?
A1: World Water Day is celebrated each year on March 22. The annual commemoration of international activities dedicated to addressing global water challenges builds on a series of recommendations made by delegates to the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Following the Rio conference, the UN General Assembly declared March 22 to be the World Day for Water. In 1993, the United Nations began inviting countries to organize annual activities to raise the profile of work focused on the implementation of UN recommendations and the achievement of internationally agreed goals regarding water.
Q2: What is the World Water Day theme this year?
A2: This year’s theme is “Clean Water for a Healthy World.” Recent themes have included “Trans-boundary Water” (2009), “Sanitation” (2008), and “Coping with Water Scarcity” (2007). World Water Day in 2010 also marks the midpoint in the UN International Decade of Action, “Water for Life,” which runs from 2005 to 2015.
Q3: Why focus on the links between water and health?
A3: Nearly 10 percent of the global burden of disease can be attributed to water. Diarrheal diseases, many of which are related to water quality, account for an estimated 3.7 percent of annual deaths globally. At least 884 million people worldwide do not have access to improved drinking water sources, and 2.6 billion people do not have access to any kind of sanitation. Sick children miss nearly 300 million school days a year because of water-related illness, and an estimated 320 million productive work days are lost to illness resulting from unsafe drinking water and lack of access to sanitation. UNICEF estimates that around 4,500 children die each day from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation.
Q4: How is the international community working to address global water challenges?
A4: In 2000, governments around the world adopted the Millennium Declaration, outlining a series of objectives focused on promoting a “more peaceful, prosperous and just world.” Building on the text of the Millennium Declaration, the United Nations released the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which specify eight objectives, including improving health, promoting gender equality, reducing poverty, ensuring environmental sustainability, and enhancing access to education, to be achieved by 2015. Goal 7, “Ensure environmental sustainability” focuses attention on reducing “by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” Most regions of the world, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, are on track to meet the 2015 targets for water. However, progress on improving access to sanitation is lagging. According to the World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program update for 2010, most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia will not meet the MDG sanitation target within the next five years.
Q5: What is the United States doing to improve water and sanitation access globally?
A5: The United States supports international activities to improve access to drinking water and sanitation through a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of State, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The 2005 Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act made improving drinking water and sanitation access for the world’s most impoverished populations an explicit component of U.S. foreign policy. According to the Department of State’s 2009 Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Report to Congress, in FY2008 the United States government spent $815 million on water activities in 95 countries, including more than $640 million in sub-Saharan Africa. The United States estimates that its FY2008 spending led to first-time access to an improved water source for 4.6 million people and first-time access to sanitation for 2.1 million people.
Katherine E. Bliss is 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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