World Water Day is an annual event celebrated on 22 March. The day focuses attention on the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in developing countries. The day also focuses on advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
World Water Day is supported by stakeholders across the globe. Many organizations promote clean and water for people and sustainable aquatic habitats. Events such as theatrical and musical celebrations, educational events, and campaigns to raise money for access to clean and affordable water are held worldwide on or close to 22 March.
UN-Water selects a theme for each year. Previous themes included: 'Why waste water?' (a play on words with 'Why wastewater?') in 2017, 'Water and Jobs' in 2016, and 'Water and Sustainable Development' in 2015.
The first International World Water Day, designated by the United Nations, was commemorated in 1993.
World Water Day is an international observance day. It is meant to inspire people around the world to learn more about water-related issues, tell others about these issues and take action to make a difference, particularly in developing countries.
One of these issues is the global water crisis. The global water crisis includes challenges such as water scarcity, water pollution, inadequate water supply and the lack of sanitation for billions of people in developing countries. The day brings to light the inequality of access to WASH services and the need to assure the human right to water and sanitation.
UN-Water coordinates plans and programmes for the day in consultation with UN member organisations who share interest in that year's theme. For example, in 2016 when the theme was "Water and Jobs," UN-Water collaborated with the International Labour Organization.
Organizations active in the WASH sector, including non-governmental organizations such as UNICEF and WaterAid, use the day to raise public awareness, inspire action and get media attention for water issues. Activities have included the production and dissemination of publications or films, and the organization of round tables, seminars, expositions and other events.
End Water Poverty, a global civil society coalition with 250 partner organizations worldwide, coordinates a calendar of global events to commemorate World Water Day, on the 22nd and during the whole of March.
Each year on World Water Day, the UN World Water Development Report (WWDR), also relating to the chosen annual theme, is released.
World Water Day has seen an increase in the quantity and quality of education initiatives within schools and universities, to raise awareness of the importance of conserving and managing water resources. For example, Michigan State University held a contest for "best World Water Day poster" in 2017. Primary school children in the Philippines participated in a "My School Toilet" contest in 2010.
In addition to school-based educational events, a variety of public events, such as seminars, rallies and parades aim to bring people together for World Water Day. This might include educational displays on water-saving devices such as greywater reuse systems or dry toilets, as well as information about the lack of access to drinking water and water for agriculture in developing countries.
This day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. The United Nations (UN) designated 22 March as International World Water Day in 1992 at the same conference.
In 1993, the first World Water Day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly and each year since then has focused on a different issue.
2018 – Nature for Water
The theme in 2018 explores how we nature can be used to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century.
2017 – Why Waste Water?
In 2017, the theme was "Why Waste Water?" which is about reducing and reusing wastewater. The theme is a play on words as it relates to both: the aspect of wasting water and issues around wastewater, namely treatment and reuse. Wastewater is a valuable resource to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal Number 6. One aspect of Target 6.3 is to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and also to increase the recycling and safe reuse of water across the globe.
After appropriate treatment, wastewater can be used for a variety of purposes. Industry, for example, can reuse water in cooling towers and agriculture can reuse water for irrigation.
An example activity for 2017 was the Wikipedia edit-a-thon organized by members of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance on 19–21 March 2017. The purpose of the activity was to improve water and sanitation related content on Wikipedia just ahead of World Water Day. The goal was to improve the quantity and quality of sanitation information available on Wikipedia for the use of teachers, journalists and the general public.
2016 – Better Water, Better Jobs
The 2016 theme of "Better water, better jobs" highlighted the correlation between water and job creation, both directly and indirectly by water sources around the globe. As water scarcity becomes more of a reality, industries heavily dependent on water like textiles and agriculture are at risk of increased costs, which threatens salaries and jobs. Increased costs may then be passed on to consumers.
The theme also highlights how an abundance of quality water can change people's jobs and lives for the better. The 2016 celebration created recognition for those working to improve water quality and availability, and the need for many to transition to other and better jobs. Three out of four of the jobs worldwide are water-dependent. Water shortages and lack of access may limit economic growth in the years to come, according to the 2016 United Nations World Water Development Report, "Water and Jobs," which was launched on 22 March, World Water Day, in Geneva.
2015 – Water and Sustainable Development
With the theme ‘Water and Sustainable Development’, the year 2015 provided an important opportunity to consolidate and build upon the previous World Water Days to highlight water's role in the sustainable development agenda. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were to have been achieved by 2015, so the year lent itself to discussions of the post-MDG period and aspirations for water and sustainable development. With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), world Water Day gave specific emphasis to SDG 6, which calls for water and sanitation for all, by encouraging discussion of how SDG 6 could be achieved by 2030.
2014 – Water and Energy
The 2014 theme of Water and Energy gave an opportunity for emphasizing the close linkages and interdependence of water and energy. Generating and transmitting energy requires the use of water resources, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources. At the same time, about 8% of the energy generated globally is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers.
In 2014, the UN System – working closely with Member States and other relevant stakeholders – brought attention to the water-energy nexus, particularly addressing inequities that disproportionately affect the 'bottom billion." Those who live in urban slums and impoverished rural areas must find ways to survive without access to safe drinking water, safe sanitation, sufficient food and without energy services. The aim was to facilitate the development of policies and crosscutting frameworks that would bridge ministries and sectors, leading the way to energy security and sustainable water use in a green economy. Particular attention was paid to identifying best practices that make a water- and energy-efficient green economy a reality.
That same year, journalists from eleven countries in Asia met in Tokoyo from 20–21 March 2014 to discuss the importance of water. The event included discussion panels on topics such as privatisation of services, integration between water and energy and modernisation of water services. The journalists also developed four joint stories and 20 individual story ideas for a network of Asian journalists writing on water (and energy) in social media.
Prior to 2014
In the years prior to 2014, the annual themes were as follows:
- 2013: International Year of Cooperation. In December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation. In reflection of this declaration, the 2013 World Water Day was dedicated to water cooperation.
- 2012: Water and Food Security: The World is Thirsty Because We are Hungry. On the occasion of 2012 World Water Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called attention to the water-related challenges faced by civilians caught up in fighting and intense civil unrest.
- 2011: Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge. The aim was to spotlight and encourage governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to actively engage in addressing the challenges of urban water management.
- 2010: Clean Water for a Healthy World. Dedicated to water quality, reflecting its importance alongside quantity of the resource in water management.
- 2009: Trans Waters. Special focus placed on trans-boundary waters.
- 2008: Sanitation. 2008 was also the International Year of Sanitation
- 2007: Coping With Water Scarcity. Highlighted water scarcity worldwide and the need for increased integration and cooperation to ensure sustainable, efficient and equitable management of scarce water resources, both at international and local levels.
- 2006: Water and Culture. The theme drew the attention to the fact that there are as many ways of viewing, using, and celebrating water as there are cultural traditions across the world.
- 2005: Water for Life Decade 2005–2015. The United Nations General Assembly at its 58th session in December 2003 agreed to proclaim the years 2005 to 2015 the International Decade for Action, beginning with World Water Day, 22 March 2005. The phrase Water for Life Decade was also used.
- 2004: Water and Disasters. Weather, climate and water resources can have a devastating impact on socio-economic development and on the well-being of humankind.
- 2003: Water for Future. Maintain and improve the quality and quantity of fresh water available to future generations.
- 2002: Water for Development. The poor and deteriorating state of water resources in many parts of the world demand integrated water resources planning and management.
- 2001: Water for Health
- 2000: Water for the 21st century
- 1999: Everyone Lives Downstream
- 1998: Groundwater– The Invisible Resource. The UN identified gaps in groundwater management which have enormous implications for sustainable development.
- 1997: The World's Water: Is there enough?
- 1996: Water for Thirsty Cities
- 1995: Women and Water
- 1994: Caring for our Water Resources is Everybody's Business
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The WWDR is an annual and thematic report that focuses on different strategic water issues each year and aims to provide decision-makers with the tools to implement sustainable use of our water resources. It also includes regional aspects, hotspots, examples and stories, making the report relevant to a broad range of readers, at different levels and in different geographical areas.
The development of the WWDR, coordinated by the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), is a joint effort of the UN agencies and entities which make up UN-Water, working in partnership with governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders.
The WWDR was originally a triennial report and the first four editions were launched in conjunction with the World Water Forum in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012. The triennial version provided an overall picture of the state, uses and management of the world’s freshwater resources. In 2012, the decision was taken to revise the scope of the report and improve its format in order to better meet the needs of its readers with an annual, more concise publication that is increasingly facts-based and has a more specific thematic focus.