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#WorldWaterDay

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by: Peter Sant
#WorldWaterDay

The annual 'World Water Day' is an international day dedicated to water on 22 March.

In 1992 a resolution was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations to declare 'World Water Day' every year as from March 1993. Member States are called upon to make public the global water issue on that day by a wide public, by organizing events and disseminating information about water.

In the Netherlands, this initiative has been taken up by many parties that annually organize water related events around 22 March. They often organize an event in which collaboration, knowledge transfer and innovative development aid are central.

The goal of the World Water Day campaign is to promote preparedness for disasters and the sharing of knowledge at regional level and to increase public awareness about the various elements of disasters related to water. It is also intended to inspire worldwide political and community actions to prevent and reduce water-related disasters, so that lives and possessions can be saved. In addition, the actions organized from World Water Day must contribute to the Millennium Development Goal with regard to reducing poverty and building sustainable development. One of the millennium goals for 2015 is to reduce the number of people without or with a shortage of clean drinking water by half.

Kofi Annan: "Water is essential for all life, yet millions of people in the world suffer from water shortages, millions of children die of water-borne illnesses every year, and the poorest countries in the world are regularly plagued by drought. World Water Day plan to do more to give all people in the world access to safe and clean water. "

King Willem Alexander (Netherlands): ‘It is unacceptable that a large part of the world's population still lives under conditions that we did not accept in the Netherlands 150 years ago.’

What did we write about this subject 20 years ago (1997)

The last drop

Sometimes predicting the future is not that difficult. In this way we already know with certainty that mankind will face gigantic water shortages in the next century. Entire populations will flock en masse. Wars will be waged for water. But there is no one who does anything about it.

A person can for a while without solid food. Only after a day or fourteen without food does the human body begin to suffer damage. Really noticeable problems usually only occur after about twenty days. Some people, like hunger strikers, can survive for more than forty days without food.

But no one can last longer than a day or six without water. After having drunk nothing for one day, the first problems start to get started. After two days the first serious symptoms occur and on the third day the body starts to show signs of serious problems. Body functions begin to fall out and people begin to hallucinate. So between the fifth and the sixth day one gets into a coma.

Man needs at least one to one and a half liters water per day to survive. Although the form in which we take it to us can vary a lot - with or without addition, cooled or cooked - water is literally the source of our existence. 'Only a few realize what that means', Henk Saeijs argued in his inaugural lecture at the acceptance of the extraordinary professorship Water Quality and Sustainability at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (Netherlands). 'Water is essential for our lives. Not only do we need it to survive, but the quantity that we have at our disposal also determines to a large extent the quality of that same life. '

Water & natural resources

Like many other natural resources, the amount of water is limited. More than 75 percent of the earth consists of water, but only a very small part of it is suitable for consumption, agriculture and industrial processes. Fresh water is a very scarce commodity, although many in the rich West do not seem to realize that. The stocks, which are stored in glaciers, underground water basins, lakes and rivers, are not inexhaustible. And the supply in the form of rain and snow, caused by the evaporation of sea water, is no longer sufficient to meet the ever-growing demand.

All experts in the field of water management agree that the freshwater supplies will become exhausted in the coming century. According to estimates (1997), which were confirmed at the environmental summit in New York, half of the world's population will have to deal with water scarcity before the year 2010. And those people will not only live in the third world. Fresh water, according to the prediction, will become so scarce that it can even lead to wars. 'Water scarcity' becomes the biggest problem of the next century. As an export article, water will become more important than petroleum.

Countries such as Greenland, Alaska and Norway will become water exporters. They will put the Arab sheiks to the crown in terms of income. Water will become expensive. There will be fights for clean water. The shortage of water will become such an explosive problem that the oil crisis will fade.'
Fjord, Norway, water, hils
Norway. Photo by: Getty images

This disturbing statement is less futuristic than it seems. In 1994 - the then Egyptian secretary of the United Nations, Boutros Ghali - threatened to take all possible measures against 'countries that want to obstruct the water supply of Egypt'. He referred to the plans of both Sudan and Ethiopia for the construction of large-scale water works on the upper reaches of the Nile. This would drastically reduce the amount of water that reaches Egypt via this river. And King Hussein of Jordan recently stated that in the future he did not expect any more war between his country and neighboring Israel, except "if the national water supply is jeopardized by irresponsible action by the other party".

The following day he was reminded in the commentary of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that one of the reasons for the 1967 war lay in the fact that Jordan and Syria were together planning to inflict a severe blow on Israel's water supply. . These two Arab states wanted to use the water in the basin of the river Yarmuk completely for their own purposes. However, this river is one of the most important supply streams of the Sea of ​​Galilee, where Israel draws a large proportion of its fresh water.

Countries such as Greenland, Alaska and Norway will become water exporters. They will put the Arab sheiks to the crown in terms of income. Water will become expensive. There will be water fighting. The shortage of water will become such an explosive problem that the oil crisis will fade. '

This disturbing statement is less futuristic than it seems. In 1994 the then Egyptian secretary of the United Nations, Boutros Ghali, threatened to take all possible measures against 'countries that want to obstruct the water supply of Egypt'. He referred to the plans of both Sudan and Ethiopia for the construction of large-scale water works on the upper reaches of the Nile. This would drastically reduce the amount of water that reaches Egypt via this river. And King Hussein of Jordan recently stated that in the future he did not expect any more war between his country and neighboring Israel, except "if the national water supply is jeopardized by irresponsible action by the other party".

The following day he was reminded in the commentary of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that one of the reasons for the 1967 war lay in the fact that Jordan and Syria were together planning to inflict a severe blow on Israel's water supply. . These two Arab states wanted to use the water in the basin of the river Yarmuk completely for their own purposes. However, this river is one of the most important supply streams of the Sea of ​​Galilee, where Israel draws a large proportion of its fresh water.

The Middle East

The Middle East is the region where the problems associated with the distribution of scarce water already manifest themselves. Israel and its neighbors argue about the water of the Jordan and the amount of water that the Arab countries withdraw from the supply flows of the Sea of ​​Galilee. In addition, Israel has a problem with the Palestinians about pumping up groundwater in the areas inhabited by Palestinians. Then there is also the quarrel between Israel and Lebanon about the fact that Israel is allowing all the water of the Litani River to flow into the Israeli water supply network.
People standing wate deep in the water holding protest signs
Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian mayors and municipal representatives participate in an event in the lower Jordan River, to call on the two governments to rehabilitate the river. (photo credit: ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST)

Two other countries in the region, Syria and Turkey, have high-level arguments about the use of the water of the Euphrates River. Turkey has built some dams in the upper reaches of that river. The immense reservoir that is created by this must supply energy and drinking water to a large part of Southeast Turkey. In addition, an area as large as the Netherlands must be irrigated with that water. In order to fill the lake, the Turks have already stopped the supply of water to the Syria on the lower course of the Euphrates.

Syria also has major problems with the neighboring Euphrates with another neighbor. Syria is building rapid dams in the territory of the Euphrates and its tributaries on its territory. The further downstream Iraq has recently protested against this. Given the political isolation of that country since the Gulf War, however, this protest was hardly heard internationally.

But the Middle East is not the only region where there are problems. "It is already the case now," says Saeijs, "that there are 26 countries where less than a thousand cubic meters of water per capita are available each year in the form of rainfall or spring water." A thousand cubic meters of water per year per head of According to the UN, the population is the minimum requirement. In countries where the input of water is lower, according to this definition, there is a water shortage, and that means a serious obstacle to economic development, food production and the welfare of the inhabitants of that country.

Strictly speaking, the Netherlands also belongs to the group of countries with a water shortage. In our country, the annual input is less than seven hundred cubic meters per person. This local shortage is happily supplemented with fresh water from the major rivers and the IJsselmeer, which functions as a huge freshwater buffer. But in spite of this, there is a great shortage of water in the Netherlands.

'We go', according to Saeijs, 'totally irresponsible with our water resources. We belong to the poor countries in terms of input, but globally we belong to the major consumers. We use between five and ten thousand cubic meters per person per year. Therefore we have to rely on the groundwater. And that goes at an alarming rate. Since 1950, the groundwater level has dropped on average by more than twenty centimeters, and in meters with intensive cattle breeding a meter. '

Pumping groundwater is not just happening in the Netherlands on a very large scale. The underground supplies are being used up quickly all over the world. For example, the amount of water in the largest underground freshwater reservoir in the world - the so-called Ogallala basin that is located under the territory of the American state of Texas - has already decreased by thirty percent since the beginning of this century. And the huge water reserves that are hidden under the sand of the Arabian desert are also shrinking at a rapid pace.

In Saudi Arabia, seven billion cubic meters of water are pumped every year. A natural reserve that has been built up over the course of millions of years has almost been used up in fifty years.
Sand, dessert with water
Photo by: mideastposts.com

Pumping up groundwater on a large scale still has an adverse effect. Because much more water is pumped up than is supplied in a natural way, the remaining groundwater settles at a fast pace. In some parts of Africa, this process has already led to the groundwater becoming totally unsuitable for consumption in large areas.

A lot of groundwater has also become unusable due to the increased pollution. Years of over-fertilization and pollution of surface water have affected the groundwater in many places. This pollution is much more serious than the surface pollution because it is usually impossible to purify contaminated groundwater. The subterranean currents have often not yet been mapped, which means that local pollution above ground can sometimes affect groundwater over vast distances.

Population growth


Train overloaded with Indian people
Photo by: travelerfood.com

But the biggest problem is and remains the unrestrained population growth, according to a Dutch UN spokesman at a meeting on population issues. 'More and more people who also use more and more water.

Our grandparents would have been able to live very well with the current minimum UN standard of one thousand cubic meters per year. We already use it five to tenfold in the Netherlands.

And our children will start consuming more water again. But nobody who seems to be really concerned about that. The disappearance of the tropical rainforest and the damage to the ozone layer are on all political agendas. We do not hear politicians or policymakers talking about the fact that our water supplies decrease much faster than the primeval forests or the ozone layer.

UNHCR

Also at the headquarters of the UNHCR in Geneva, the alarm was sounded recently with regard to the water problem. "Between now and ten years, the number of people fleeing for ecological reasons will have exceeded the number of people who fled for political reasons. And the majority of them will flee because no water is available in their original habitat. '

Now we have known for a long time the images of streams of refugees in Africa that move out of drought-stricken areas in search of water for themselves and their livestock. But most of those refugees return home once the rainy season has started. What is now about to arrive, however, are large groups that will definitely leave. There are areas where life is no longer possible at all. One of the first areas where that is already the case is the region around the Aral Sea. The size of this largest lake in the world has decreased by about a third in twenty years. The reasons for this are the construction of enormous cotton plantations along one of the most important rivers that flow into this lake, and the shifting of a number of other supply waters by the Russians in an attempt to develop economically the area north of the Aral Sea. As a result, an area as large as Belgium and the Netherlands has together turned into a dusty, hot salt desert. Flora and fauna around the lake have almost completely disappeared and the lake itself has changed from a sweet lake into a salt lake. One and a half million people who lived along the shore have already left. At the Aral Sea you can no longer live.

Of course, all kinds of initiatives are being developed to limit water consumption. We already had the first advertising campaign of the SIRE on this subject in the Netherlands. But virtually nothing happens. There is an ecological time bomb, but everyone seems to ignore it. Water is still seen as something that is always there. Until it runs out, and then it's too late.

By Joost Vermeulen

Water shortages could affect 5bn people by 2050, UN report warns (2018)

Conflict and civilizational threats likely unless action is taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs

More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water.

The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilizational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. “In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.”
Boy sitting at a dried up lake
Photo by: raseef22.com

Creating strains on water resources

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased six fold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Natural disaster

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. “Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,” it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.

By 2050, the report predicts, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today, while the number of people at risk of floods will increase to 1.6 billion, from 1.2 billion.

In drought belts encompassing Mexico, western South America, southern Europe, China, Australia and South Africa, rainfall is likely to decline. The shortage cannot be offset by groundwater supplies, a third of which are already in distress. Nor is the construction of more dams and reservoirs likely to be a solution, because such options are limited by silting, runoff and the fact that most cost-effective and viable sites in developed countries have been identified.

Water quality is also deteriorating. Since the 1990s, pollution has worsened in almost every river in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and it is expected to deteriorate further in the coming two decades, mainly due to agriculture runoffs of fertiliser and other agrochemicals that load freshwater supplies with nutrients that lead to the growth of pathogens and choking algae blooms. Industry and cities are also a significant problem. About 80% of industrial and municipal wastewater is discharged without treatment.

Vegetation helps to recycle and distribute water

Crucially, the report emphasizes a shift away from watershed management towards a wider geographic approach that takes in land use in distant areas, particularly forests. Although farmers have long seen trees as a drain on water supplies, the authors recognize more recent studies that show vegetation helps to recycle and distribute water. This was apparent in the São Paulo drought of 2014-15, which the city’s water authorities and scientists have linked to Amazon deforestation.

The key for change will be agriculture, the biggest source of water consumption and pollution. The report calls for “conservation agriculture”, which would make greater use of rainwater rather than irrigation and regularize crop rotation to maintain soil cover. This would also be crucial to reverse erosion and degradation, which currently affects a third of the planet’s land, a different UN study found last year.

Perhaps the most positive message of the report is that the potential savings of such practices exceed the projected increase in global demand for water, which would ease the dangers of conflict and provide better livelihoods for family farmers and poverty reduction.

Positive case studies

Nature-based solutions can be personal – such as dry toilets – or broad landscape-level shifts in agricultural practices. The report contains several positive case studies that show how environments and supplies can improve as a result of policy changes. In Rajasthan, more than 1,000 drought-stricken villages were supported by small-scale water harvesting structures, while a shift back towards traditional soil preservation practices in the Zarqa basin in Jordan are credited with a recovery of water quality in local springs.

The authors stress the goal is not to replace all grey infrastructure, because there are situations where there is no other choice, for example in building reservoirs to supply cities with water. But they urge greater take-up of green solutions, which are often more cost-effective as well as sustainable. They also encourage more use of “green bonds” (a form of financing that aims to reward long-term sustainable investments) and more payments for ecosystem services (cash for communities that conserve forests, rivers and wetlands that have a wider benefit to the the environment and society).

Two-thirds of the world’s forests and wetlands have been lost

Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of Unesco, which commissioned the report, noted two-thirds of the world’s forests and wetlands have been lost since the turn of the 20th century – a trend that needs to be addressed.

“We all know that water scarcity can lead to civil unrest, mass migration and even to conflict within and between countries,” she said. “Ensuring the sustainable use of the planet’s resources is vital for ensuring long-term peace and prosperity.”

The World Water Forum is the biggest single gathering of policymakers, businesses and NGOs involved in water management. It is being held in the southern hemisphere for the first time, and is expected to draw 40,000 participants.

Among them are indigenous and other grassroots activists who believe the event is too close to government, agriculture and business. They are staging an alternative forum in Brasília that puts greater emphasis on community management of water as a free public resource.

By: Jonathan Watts in Brasília. Photo cover by: justoneafrica.org

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Being involved in sustainability activities has changed my view on this subject a lot. Climate change and pollution are borderless and thus solutions and information has to be shared globally. Rich, 'developed' countries have to start supporting countries that don't have the means and knowledge to improve their situation. Sustainability movement is as strong as its weakest link - whatsorb.com is a helpful platform to speed up the X-Change of Global Sustainability.  
Being involved in sustainability activities has changed my view on this subject a lot. Climate change and pollution are borderless and thus solutions and information has to be shared globally. Rich, 'developed' countries have to start supporting countries that don't have the means and knowledge to improve their situation. Sustainability movement is as strong as its weakest link - whatsorb.com is a helpful platform to speed up the X-Change of Global Sustainability.  
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