The Importance of Water

– Nevena Vucetic –

On March 22nd, World Water Day 2018, the United Nations launched the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development (Water Action Decade).1 Why water you may ask? Besides being declared a human right2 and one3 of 16 Sustainable Development Goals in Agenda2030, access to water and sanitation is a precondition to life that is intrinsically intertwined with numerous other aspects of our lives. When water sources are scarce, agricultural productivity suffers with lower than average yields which, if protracted long enough, can lead to food insecurity, hunger and mass migration for those in search of more reliable food sources. With climate change shifting weather patterns and disproportionately affecting the developing world4, this threat is very real and will continue to expand over the next few decades.

In fact, the UN5 estimates that currently, 40 percent of the world’s people are affected by water scarcity, with up to 700 million people being at risk of displacement by intense water scarcity by 2030 – that is almost 20 times the current population of Canada. This sort of mass displacement has immense implications regionally, in for example, Sub- Saharan Africa6 where such impacts are already being felt, and globally, as migration crises protract and resettlement becomes increasingly difficult with stricter immigration policies. Furthermore, more than two billion people currently drink unsafe water and more than 4.5 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services.

As with any issue, it is important to consider who is most affected within such jarring statistics, because it cannot possibly be that all people in Sub-Saharan Africa will be impacted in the same way, if at all. Vulnerable and marginalized populations are most at risk. These include the poor, those who live in rural areas, women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, etc. If we compound these vulnerabilities and take an intersectional lens, we can begin to understand who is most at risk – one could include a rural elderly woman, another could be a young girl with a disability. These are the very people left behind when crisis strikes.

This is not, however, an issue only experienced in the developing world – Canada also faces its own challenges with access to water, as Autumn Peltier, the 13 year old Anishinaabe girl from Wikwemikong First Nation, so gracefully spoke it about when addressing7 the United Nations General Assembly as they launched the Water Action Decade. Autumn stressed the human right to water and pleaded for water to be granted the same rights and protections as human beings to put an end to its abuse and protect it for future generations to have clean drinking water. Autumn is lucky enough to still be able to drink from the lake in her community, however, she is quick to parallel this with the fact that neighbouring communities have had long lasting boil-water advisories. Through traditional ceremonies, Autumn says she has learned that “Mother Earth has been surviving for millions of years without us. And it’s taken us less than a century to destroy her, [she] doesn’t need us, but we need her”.

Autumn Peltier addresses the event to launch the International Decade for Action titled “Water for Sustainable Development 2018–2028”. Photo credit © UN Photo/Manuel Elias This is evidently a global issue, requiring a global approachto tackle it. The Water Action Decade will not only focus on sustainable development, better management of water resources and the efficient use of water, but also the furtherance of cooperation towards water-related goals. This will require the full participation of all relevant stakeholder, especially those most vulnerable. The Water Action Decade commenced on World Water Day, 22 March 2018, and will end on World Water Day, 22 March 2028.

@ UN Photo / Manuel Elias

For more information, please visit the links/references within document:

1. http://www.un.org/en/events/waterdecade/

2. http://undocs.org/A/RES/68/157

3. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/

4. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/10/report- inequalities-exacerbate-climate-impacts-on-poor/

5. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/03/12- world-leaders-issue-clarion-call-accelerated-action-water/

6. http://www.un.org/en/africa/osaa/advocacy/climate.shtml

7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/autumn-peltier-un-water-activist- united-nations-1.4584871

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