World Water Day 2023: Accelerating Change

Water is the driving force of all nature. – Leonardo da Vinci

Since early times it has been clear to us that water is crucial for our existence and development. Since 1993, this has been officially emphasized by celebrating the 22nd of March as World Water Day. This day serves for all of us as a reminder of the importance of clean water and to become more aware of how we use and manage the water available to us. It is addressed to governments and businesses to create policies and practices to act more sustainably. The World Water Day 2023 highlights the need for accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG), Goal 6, hopes to ensure safe access to water and sanitation for all. However, this goal seems to be too far to reach as our actions are too slow. Statistics from 2021 show that one fourth of the world population does not have access to clean drinking water and almost half of our population lacks access to safe sanitation. This leads to an annual death rate of almost 1.5 million people due to the lack of safe water and hygiene. (1) According to the WHO, governments would need to work four times as fast as they do now to fulfill SDG 6 until 2030. (2)

On the 9th of March, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) organized the Global Policy Dialogue “Indigenous and Youth Solutions for Clean Water” to raise awareness about the importance of involving youth and indigenous peoples in the problem-solving process regarding the water crisis. Indigenous water activists from different countries highlighted the challenges that come with poor water quality: diseases spread faster which leads to less productivity and economic growth, education is suffering due to sickness of the children and/or teachers, gender equality is at risk because especially women’s reproductive health suffers, and people lose their dignity in the search for water. Additionally, indigenous peoples, who are closely connected to nature by their culture and tradition, are often the ones who suffer most from the exploitation by bigger industries and the lack of regulations. Makasa Looking Horse, a Sundance leader for women and water, informed that 85% of indigenous people protect 84% of the planet’s biodiversity and are main activists fighting for the protection of the human right to water. Hence, including indigenous peoples with their knowledge and youth with their motivation and new ideas into decision-making processes could bring the necessary change to get closer to complying with the 2030 Agenda. Jordyn Burnouf,  a member of Indigenous Clean Energy’s Advisory Council in Canada, stated that in particular damaging activities such as mining would be evaluated differently if women, youth, and indigenous peoples’ voices were equally represented in decision-making bodies. 

This concern was also raised by IIMA and VIDES, along with ANEC – Asociación Nacional de Educación Católica de Brasil and RSB – Red Salesiana Brasil, in their UPR Submission on the Human Rights in Brazil in March 2022, submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (3) Mining in Brazil has had a catastrophic impact, causing social and environmental damage: the destruction of nature and indigenous cultures and the contamination of rivers, fish and water with mercury. Despite the protest of the many indigenous peoples in Brazil and the scientific evidence of the damage done, mining activities still continue and demarcation processes of indigenous territories are on a hold. 

To combat these scenarios of disrespect of humans and nature, the DESA experts mentioned three important steps to improve decision-making processes. Firstly, documents and research must be available in different languages (including indigenous languages) to ensure access and understanding of all. Secondly, education systems should include environmental information and discussion and encourage intergenerational dialogue. And lastly, individuals should keep fighting for everyone’s right to safe water and sanitation and not be afraid to join political movements supporting the cause, making sure everyone is heard and respected. 

If you would like to become active for a more sustainable use and management of water, the UN has some suggestions on how to “be the change you want to see in the world”.