World Water Day 2018
Message from Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region on the occasion of World Water Day, 22 March 2018
World Water Day is a special occasion. On 22 March every year people across the globe take the opportunity to reflect on, celebrate and advocate for clean and abundant water.
As the theme of this year’s World Water Day – “nature for water” – highlights, it is imperative we preserve ecosystems that provide fresh water. Just 2.5% of the earth’s water is fresh. Most is frozen in ice caps. In theory, just 1% of the world’s water is fit for human consumption. In reality, the actual volume is much less.
Contaminated wastewater from human settlements, industries and agriculture is largely to blame for polluting fresh water sources and the environment. Around 80% of wastewater is untreated, introducing millions of pathogens into fresh water supplies and risking human and animal health in the process. In addition, heavy metals, chemicals, antibiotic residues and pesticides contaminate fresh water through the indiscriminate disposal of industrial wastewater and agricultural run-off. This can have far-reaching effect: Contaminated water, for example, can hasten the mutation of microorganisms and the spread of antimicrobial resistance, one of the 21st century’s greatest public health and health security threats.
Nevertheless, Member countries have made substantial progress in providing improved water and sanitation services. When in 2015 the Millennium Development Agenda came to a close more than 89% of the Region’s population had access to improved drinking water sources. More than 51% now have access to improved sanitation.
Despite these achievements, more work is needed. As the sixth Sustainable Development Goal emphasizes, all people everywhere should have access to the water they need. Importantly, that water should be safe and sustainably managed, including by implementing specific targets on preventing contamination and monitoring scarcity.
Doing so will prove beneficial to all Member countries. Despite Region-wide progress in promoting access to improved drinking water, water safety and security remains insufficient, with contamination an ongoing concern. Overcoming these difficulties will advance public health for vulnerable populations, at the same time as reducing water scarcity by increasing the availability of safe water.
WHO is committed to that outcome. For many years WHO has worked alongside Member countries, partners and communities to support the surveillance and regulation of water quality, as well as risk-based management of drinking water and sanitation systems. At all levels, and among all partners, this must be strengthened and further institutionalized.
In particular, the disposal of sewage and industrial wastewater should be better regulated, with proper directives established on the release of effluents. This should be accompanied by systematic monitoring and enforced penalties for non-compliance. Education on the rational use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture should also be carried out to prevent contamination of water sources, as well as education on the efficient use of water. Though technologies for water treatment are available, it is more cost-effective to prevent contamination in the first place.
In noting policy-level solutions, we must be aware of and embrace our own responsibilities. Protecting the safety and abundance of the earth’s water requires each of us to dispose of water-related waste and effluents judiciously. It also requires each of us to commit to preserving a resource that we as humans cannot do without.
This World Water Day, do the necessary: reflect on, celebrate and advocate for clean and abundant water for ourselves, the environment and generations to come.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh