The theme of this year’s observance of World Water Day is “Water and Culture”. Water is not only essential for life, it is also a wide-ranging cultural presence – an inspiration for artists, a focus of scientific research, and an indispensable element in the religious rituals of many traditions and faiths.
Yet despite its importance and often sacred nature, water continues to be wasted and degraded all over the world, in cities and rural areas alike. Eighteen per cent of the world’s population lack access to safe drinking water, and 40 per cent lack basic sanitation. Every day, some 6,000 people, most of them children, die from water-related causes.
That is why the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution proclaiming the period from 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”, called for more concerted action to reach the internationally agreed targets for access to water and sanitation.
The Assembly also stressed the need to involve women in all water-related development efforts. In many cultures, including indigenous societies, women are the guardians of water. They are the ones who often spend long, arduous hours searching for and carrying water. They need to be able to participate more meaningfully in decision-making on how water is used and managed, so that their countries can make full use of their knowledge, skills and contributions.
This year’s observance of World Water Day coincides with the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City. I urge all the participants to work together and send a clear message to the world about the urgency of this challenge.
The Day also marks the launch of the second edition of the World Water Development Report (http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/table_contents.shtml), produced by the UN system’s World Water Assessment Programme. This publication demonstrates what the world must do to meet the challenges of freshwater management, and what the UN system can do to help. I commend it to a wide global audience.
On this World Water Day, let us recognize the cultural, environmental and economic importance of clean water, and strengthen our efforts to protect rivers, lakes and aquifers. We need to distribute water more equitably, and increase the efficiency of water use, especially in agriculture. Let us mount a sustained effort -- among international bodies, governments and local communities, and across traditions and cultures – that will reach our goals.