World Water Day 2024: a promise of peace

“Water can create peace or spark conflict.” This is how the United Nations introduced this year’s theme for World Water Day: Water for Peace. A day this year that is more important than ever, representing a front on which the UN has been working continuously since 1993. Water is the essential commodity par excellence, to which everyone should have the opportunity to access, safely and securely. Due to the many crises that have been going on for years, and especially the newly opened conflict between Israel and Palestine, this day takes on even more importance.


But how are water and peace closely related? The UN explains in a dedicated page on its official website. When water is scarce or difficult to receive, these conditions can increase tensions already present in a fragile territory. Water is described as a potential weapon (during an armed conflict to maintain control over territory), as a trigger (when two states have different and therefore irreconcilable ideas), and as an incident (such as attacks on civilian infrastructure, including water systems).


Access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services is a fundamental right to human health and well-being; as outlined in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 6. However, if efforts are not redoubled, billions of people could be left without such services by 2030. Currently, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF in 2023, 2.2 billion people still live without access to safe drinking water, and these include 115 million individuals who depend on surface water sources for their daily needs.


In addition, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2022, about half of the world’s population experienced severe water shortages for at least part of the year. The growing demand for water is fueled by population growth, urbanization and the ever-expanding needs of the agricultural, industrial and energy sectors.


To ensure universal access to safe drinking water by 2030, it is essential to promote hygiene education and actively involve civil society.


IIMA has often addressed this issue: in the recent report created by IIMA for Ethiopia, it was highlighted that there is a lack of water particularly in the Tigray region especially in rural areas. Our sisters in Ethiopia stress that food insecurity is a major concern for Ethiopia. Moreover, the World Food Programme reports that due to drought, flooding and conflict, 20.1 million people are in need of food assistance. According to the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey, 38 percent of children under age 5 are stunted or too short for their age; this is due to chronic undernutrition.


Due to drought, there is a water crisis in Ethiopia. Nearly 25 percent (27 million) of Ethiopia’s population lives in areas of high water stress. Some locations in Ethiopia receive water only once a week.


We, first and foremost, can be advocates for secure access to water as an instrument of peace.  Water can be a stabilizing force and a catalyst for sustainable development because it is a human right intrinsic to every aspect of life. At the local and national levels, cooperation is crucial to promote a circular economy and respect people’s human rights.


Pope Francis invites us to reflect on the importance of this day: “[seek] first the kingdom of God” (Mt. 6:33), maintaining a right relationship with God, humanity and nature, then justice and peace can flow like an inexhaustible stream of pure water, nourishing humanity and all creatures.” May 25, 2023.