Earth Day Declaration on Water
The United Nations has declared 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater. Earth Day Network supports this designation and is launching a two-year Water for Life campaign for Earth Day 2003 and 2004.
Earth Day Network\'s Water for Life campaign aims to bring global attention to the world\'s water crisis and provides practical ways for individuals, communities and corporations to improve access to healthy water worldwide.
More than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion lack sanitation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), millions of people, most of whom are children, die from water-related diseases every year. Water is a human right and access to clean and safe water is fundamental to humanity. Although there is significant work being done to address the world\'s water challenges, more citizens, organizations, and corporations must participate in solutions to adequately address the emergency.
Governments carry full responsibility to provide safe water to citizenry. Many municipalities have failed to adequately provide water services and sanitation, increasing the risks of water borne illnesses, water scarcity, and crop failure. Conservation strategies and improved management can protect and ensure the long-term viability of watersheds and water resources.
The current trend toward privatization of water services weakens public control and threatens governments\' ability to ensure water as a human right. The track record of the private sector\'s management of water resources and services has shown that private interests often take precedence over the basic human right of access to water. In the same vein, many opportunities exist for the largest corporate users and purveyors of water to adopt more sustainable and proactive approaches to addressing the world\'s water crisis.
Corporate leadership and commitment to action are vital to addressing the global water crisis. Companies who take precautionary actions through conservation efforts not only help to protect their own future needs for water but will also reduce future risks to health and the environment in communities where they have a presence. Increased regulation of corporate purveyors and industrial users of water is imminent. Many water conservation strategies offer benefits of increased efficiency and lower overall costs now as well as the opportunity to avoid future repercussions from regulation.
The lack of attention to sanitation is a glaring problem given the number of water-related deaths and diseases resulting from inadequate sanitation. To address sanitation, governments and international agencies have moved away from large infrastructure projects and centralized water treatment, and many different household and community approaches are being developed. As more decentralized approaches are explored and new water purification products come on the market, it will be increasingly important to tailor approaches to the local situation and avoid allowing private sector market interest to drive the solutions chosen. Long-term environmental and health impact assessments must be performed as these household treatment methods are introduced at greater scale.
Another way governments and communities can deal with poor water access is to address the inequity in different sectors\' water consumption. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 70% of the world\'s water is consumed for agricultural purposes. In many countries, farmers are now tapping into groundwater resources when other supplies run short. This leads to a gradual lowering of the water table and the sinking of its foundations. In the U.S. alone, the most recent National Water Quality Inventory reported that agricultural non-point source pollution is the leading cause of water quality impacts to rivers and lakes and a major contributor to groundwater pollution. In the past, water use for large-scale industrial agriculture has been prioritized over small-scale subsistence, communal, and traditional uses. In order to ensure food security, poverty alleviation, and environmental protection, water use for industrial agriculture must be better managed and regulated.
Everywhere, communities and local and national governments need capacity building, education and access to information to be more effective water managers. These critical elements of the water development process are often disregarded. More value must be placed on local capacity-building institutions, cultural diversity, and traditional knowledge in order to focus on a long-term commitment to improving the water crisis.
Education on water issues also needs to continue to be made available to all stakeholders in all parts of the world. Greater attention should be given to water education in primary and secondary school, and higher-level water-sector education and training needs to be re-oriented towards solutions.
While more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion lack sanitation, during the 1990s, nearly one billion people gained access to safe water and the same number to sanitation. It is possible to come a long way in a short amount of time. Water can be a matter of life or death; the urgency involved with addressing these issues is extreme. Solutions are emerging that indicate a hopeful future, but individuals, communities, governments, international institutions, and the private sector will still need to make substantial contributions in addressing the water crisis.
Earth Day Network
1616 P St. NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036 USA
Ph: 1 202.518.0044
Fax: 1 202.518.8794
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