Today we celebrate World Water Day! This is an annual United Nations (UN) observance day held on 22 March, highlighting the importance of fresh water. The day is used to advocate the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
The theme of each year focuses on topics relevant to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), which is in line with the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6. The UN World Water Development Report (WWDR) is released each year around World Water Day.
World Water Day 2023: Accelerating Change
World Water Day 2023 is about accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis. Dysfunction throughout the water cycle is undermining progress on all major global issues, from health to hunger, gender equality to jobs, education to industry, disasters to peace.
Back in 2015, the world committed to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 as part of the 2030 Agenda – the promise that everyone would have safely managed water and sanitation by 2030. Right now, we are seriously off-track. Billions of people and countless schools, businesses, healthcare centres, farms and factories are being held back because their human rights to water and sanitation have not yet been fulfilled.
What is the global water and sanitation crisis?
When we talk about the global water and sanitation crisis, it can be difficult to visualize it. Facts and statistics are important but they can be impersonal and fail to motivate people to take action.
So, what would it look like if we applied the global crisis to a community of just 100 people?
25 people would have to collect unsafe water from a stream or pond, often far away, or queue for hours and pay a high price to a vendor. The water would regularly make them so sick they couldn’t go to work or school. Death from entirely preventable diseases, like cholera and typhoid, would be a constant danger.
22 people would either have no choice but to go to the toilet in the streets, bushes or fields, or to use unhygienic and dysfunctional latrines. Women and girls would suffer most as they would be more vulnerable to abuse and attack, and unable to properly manage their menstrual health.
44 people would live in areas vulnerable to disease because their wastewater and faeces flowed back into nature without being treated. The other 56 people, having safe toilets connected to systems that safely treat waste, would remain largely unaware of how important their sanitation services are to protecting their health and well-being.
Around half of the wetlands around the community would have been lost in recent decades, increasing the risk of flooding.
22 people would either work in, or receive care at, a healthcare facility that has no basic water service, placing them at heightened risk of infectious diseases. Many of those will be receiving treatment for diseases that could have been prevented with safe water and sanitation in the community.
Agriculture and industry nearby would take over 80 per cent of the available water.
Due to climate change, droughts would increasingly hit water resources and food supply. Floods would threaten to destroy water and sanitation facilities and contaminate water resources.
The community would be unlikely to have a cooperation agreement with neighbouring communities to share and protect water.
The poorest and most vulnerable members of the community, who would be disproportionately affected by the crisis, would face the biggest struggle to get the attention of authorities to improve their water and sanitation services.
UN World Water Development Report 2023
The United Nations World Water Development Report 2023: Partnerships and cooperation for water, launched today, directly informs the UN 2023 Water Conference discussions (22-24 March), describing how building partnerships and enhancing cooperation across all dimensions of sustainable development are essential to accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation (SDG 6) and realizing the human rights to water and sanitation.
The role of space in solving the water crisis
There are many examples of space data supporting all the underlying objectives of SDG6. In a series of tweets today, the EU Earth Observation programme Copernicus gave a brilliant list of recent examples:
Water is essential for life on our planet. From glaciers to oceans, Copernicus open data enables the monitoring of water resources on a global scale and supports the development of sustainable solutions for managing this precious resource.
France was heavily affected by drought during the summer of 2022. The absence of water causes droughts, which have a severe impact on agriculture and water supplies. Copernicus open data and services contribute to monitoring and mitigating the consequences.
Flooded areas in Pakistan in 2022. Excess of water can cause devastating floods. Copernicus can help communities and emergency managers to prepare and respond to such events
The Venice Lagoon: Rising water levels caused by climate change are increasing the vulnerability of coastal zones. Copernicus delivers essential open data on sea level rise, ocean currents, and more, helping us protect our precious coastlines.
Algal bloom in the Baltic Sea: These algal blooms can harm water quality and affect marine ecosystems. Copernicus keeps a close eye on these events, contributing to the EU Green Deal’s goals related to cleaner water.
Also the European Commission directorate responsible for the space programme, DEFIS, tweeted about its responsibility for solving the global water crisis, in the form of an acrostic:
W – Water is vital for a viable and nature-based future
A – Applying sustainable practices protects the health of ecosystems
T – The EU Space programme monitors water resources from above
E – Every drop counts
R – Responsible water management is crucial
UN Water Conference 2023
The first UN water conference in a generation, the UN 2023 Water Conference, co-hosted by the Governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands will be a watershed moment to mobilize Member States, the UN system and stakeholders alike to take action and bring successful solutions to a global scale. To catalyse action, the Conference is seeking voluntary commitments to the Water Action Agenda.
The UN 2023 Water Conference in March must result in a bold Water Action Agenda that gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves.ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS
Copernicus on Twitter: “Today marks not only World Water Day, but also the start of the UN Water Conference in New York. We hope that Copernicus data will contribute to informed actions to mitigate the consequences and impact of climate change on water resources.”
Dutch Water Sector co-hosts the UN Water Conference 2023
The Netherlands and Tajikistan, as co-hosts of the Conference, will strive to make the Conference a watershed moment for the world. Their vision for the Conference is that we all fundamentally understand, value and manage water better and take concerted action to achieve the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Download the co-hosts vision statement for the conference here.
Groundstation.Space water projects
As one of countless players that are building solutions to the global water and sanitation crisis, Groundstation.Space is involved in several European projects, bringing the capabilities offered by space into these solutions: