World Water Day was celebrated on 22nd of March, and the theme this year was ‘Valuing Water’. UNESCO, the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and Chulalongkorn University celebrated the event together at AIT. UNESCO and AIT have established a partnership agreement last year, during the Covid-19 crisis, which forced us to find new ways of scientific work, science-education, and exchanging scientific information with each other. The partnership was possible thanks to the enthusiastic participation and support of Prof. Eden Woon, as well as the Director of the UNESCO Bangkok Office, Mr. Shigeru Aoyagi, and many other staff of AIT and UNESCO. The partnership has already produced tangible results, including a meaningful cooperation to beat the plastic pollution that is choking up the waters of the world’s oceans, coastlines, rivers, lakes and all kind of aquatic systems, as well as a new internship programme between UNESCO & AIT.
UNESCO is also cooperating since a long time with the Chulalongkorn University, including the celebration of World Water Day 2020, last year, just a day before the Covid-19 lock-down started in Thailand, with the theme ‘Water and Climate Change’. Chula is also contributing to a benchmark book publication ‘The Water-, Energy-, Food-Security Nexus in Asia Pacific’, which is currently being produced by UNESCO and multiple partners.
AIT and Chula have both contributed to the functioning and substance information on UNESCO’s online open-science-platform called QUEST4ACTION, which has been established in response to Covid-19. The science-platform contributes to the continuous flow of scientific information, and in the same time, involving Governments, academia, the private sector, young people, and the general public in scientific issues, related to ongoing long-term crises, such as biodiversity loss, climate, pollution, and water issues.
After speeches and keynote lectures, UNESCO launched the 2021 World Water Development Report ‘Valuing Water’ and made it available as hard copies. Soft copies are available here.
UNESCO’s Director-General, Madame Audrey Azoulay, released a message for all water-stakeholders, on the occasion of the World Water Day:
‘As is the case when it comes to anything having to do with the environment, the issue of water forces us to deal with our contradictions and our inability to accept that everyday resources are both fragile and in short supply. This is particularly the case with water, even though it is a total social fact and a total human fact. Not only because humans cannot live without drinking water, but also because water is essential to all our lives. As coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has reminded us, water is also a matter of health. Access to clean water is vital to hygiene, yet in the middle of a pandemic, people are unable to wash their hands in two out of every five healthcare establishments. The difficulty of water access can also be measured in time wasted and thus in educational and economic losses. The burden of fetching water is an unequal one, mostly borne by women and girls. The 200 million hours which they spend collecting water every day are vanished opportunities – for them and for society. They are 200 million hours which could have been spent learning, reading, or working. Ensuring universal access to clean water is thus crucial, particularly since reserves are limited and needs are growing: nearly 4 billion people worldwide already experience severe water shortages at least one month a year. Climate change will further aggravate global water stress. If we stand by idly, by 2030, humanity will be lacking 40% of the water it needs. The consequences of such a situation are incalculable. As water reserves dwindle, so does society. All of society suffers. From forced displacement to rising child mortality rates, and from malnutrition to an increase in tensions related to access to resources, the crisis is a global one. Yet we continue to waste water, dumping some 80% of untreated sewage into the environment. Greater awareness is necessary if we are to put a stop to this crisis. This is the reason why, in conjunction with the UN-Water family, we publish the World Water Development Report(WWDR) every year. The publication of the WWDR is an opportunity for the Organization to highlight the most sustainable, most innovative and most inclusive ways to manage this all-important resource. The value of water is far from being merely monetary. As Benjamin Franklin said: “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” We should not wait for the well to run dry. World Water Day is meant to be a call to action. Responsibility lies with all of us. Governments, associations, private partners: we must all recognize the multifold value of water and take action to conserve this basic resource, the resource which gives our planet its unique colour.’
Dr. Benno Böer
Benno is the Programme Specialist for Natural Sciences at the UNESCO Bangkok Office.