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World Water Day – Too Big To Handle?

March 22, 2010

Monday 22 March 2010 is World Water Day, the annual date selected by UN-Water to remind us of the fundamental part water plays in all our lives. This year’s theme is Clean Water for a Healthy World.
Can there be any more pressing issue? Without clean water people die needlessly from horrible illnesses, without water at all they starve. But does all this have much influence on how we lead our lives in the western world?

And do water issues have more impact, for instance, on people in less privileged areas of the UK than in privileged ones? Or is it all too huge an issue anyway, for regeneration and sustainable development people on the ground here in our damp little island?

To quote the World Water Day website:
Every year, 1,500 cubic kilometres of wastewater are produced globally. While waste and wastewater can be reused productively for energy and irrigation, it usually is not. In developing countries 80 percent of all waste is being discharged untreated, because of lack of regulations and resources. And population and industrial growth add new sources of pollution and increased demand for clean water to the equation. Human and environmental health, drinking and agricultural water supplies for the present and future are at stake, still water pollution rarely warrants mention as a pressing issue.

The changing circumstance and climate
The government has been working for years now on replacing all the old pipelines which result in loss of usable water, whilst also trying to address the increasingly urgent risk of floodplains; we know that climate change is likely to bring with it violent weather; we know that the daily extra thousand-plus people on our small island often stretches resources of all sorts beyond what can be comfortably accommodated.

How can it all add up in our minds?

More than just an issue of ‘waste’
I suggest – perhaps against the orthodoxy – that it’s not just a question of cleaning our teeth without running the taps (did I read somewhere that’s simply an approximation for the quantity of water we ‘waste’ every day?), conscious though this may make us of the issue.

Rather, World Water Day reminds us, more forcefully than can most other aspects of our environment, of our inescapable globally-based inter-dependence. If we don’t have good quality water, we are nothing; and that actually happens to some people.

A global perspective
There’s surely a massive message for everyone somewhere in World Water Day.

How can we shape this message in our western world understandings of sustainability, and apply it to most mutually beneficial advantage, I wonder?

A version of this article was first published as a New Start Blog on 21 March 2010.

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