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World Water Day 2019: Leaving no one behind

On March 22nd every year, we recognize World Water Day as a means of focusing our attention on the importance of fresh water and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. 

The United Nations recommended this international day to celebrate fresh water at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, declaring March 22nd, 1993 the first ever World Water Day. From then on each year, nations are invited to devote the day to the promotion of the conservation and development of water resources. 

This international day is an observance and opportunity to learn more about water-related issues and share them with others, inspiring people to take action and make a difference. Each year a theme is set based on current or future challenges, and this year’s theme is “Leaving no one behind.” 

Leaving no one behind

leaving no one behind world water day

Image Credit: UN-Water

2019’s World Water Day theme, “Leaving no one behind,” relates to the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that as sustainable development progresses, everyone must benefit. This means that by 2030, the agenda aims to guarantee sustainable management of, and access to, water and sanitation for all, without discrimination.

According to UN-Water in 2015, three in ten people (2.1 billion) didn’t have access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion people (or six in ten), had no access to safely managed sanitation facilities. And unfortunately, the world currently is not on track to achieving this human right to clean and safe water goal by 2030. 

The lack of access to sufficient, safe, and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has an extreme negative effect on the health, dignity and prosperity of billions of people around the world. This World Water Day 2019, we’re talking about tackling the water crisis by addressing reasons why so many people are still being left behind, and what can be done to help.

Who is currently without clean and safe water?

two young girls in school with world atlas

“Water is an essential building block of life. It is more than just essential to quench thirst or protect health; water is vital for creating jobs and supporting economic, social, and human development.” - United Nations

Safe water, or ‘safely managed drinking water service,’ means that water is accessible on the premises, available when needed and is free from contamination, which billions of people today don’t have. UN-Water reports that half of the people in the world drinking unsafe water live in Africa, where in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 24% of the population actually have access to safe drinking water. And according to National Geographic, close to half of the world’s population lacking safe water reside in India and China.

National Geographic world water access map

Image Credit: National Geographic

In April 2018, “Day Zero” impacted over one million homes in Cape Town, South Africa, where citizens stopped receiving running water from their taps. National Geographic reports that each person was limited to 50 litres per day of water, compared to in Canada in 2013 (according to Stats Canada), where the average amount of safe water used per person per day was 466 litres. Brazil’s São Paulo, a megacity with a population of 20 million, faced Day Zero in 2015. Now, fourteen of the world’s twenty megacities are experiencing drought conditions or water scarcity (see above image from National Geographic).

There’s a growing challenge of too much water in some places and not enough in others, driven by factors discussed below. This worldwide water footprint of national production graph displays the uneven use of water sources around the world.

worldwide water footprint of national production

Image Credit: National Geographic

What is causing this lack of water?

little boy touching the world painted on wall

“Water is complex because it is linked to almost everything in the world. But complexity should not hinder understanding: Water is a precondition for human existence and for the sustainability of the planet.” - Un-Water

UN-Water discusses the multiple dimensions of water and sanitation, and what contributes to the lack of access to safe water around the world. Below this list, you’ll see tips on what we can all do to help on a daily basis.

Climate Change: Water availability is getting less predictable in many places, due to increased incidences of droughts and flooding, which specifically destroys water points and sanitation facilities and contaminates water sources. 

Disasters: Water-related disasters like floods, landslides, tsunamis and others are becoming more frequent and intense, and directly impact accessibility to clean and safe water.

Pollution: Good water quality is essential to human health, social and economic development, and the ecosystem. A major part of ensuring good water quality is to produce less pollution.

Wastewater Management: Due to population growth, accelerated urbanization and economic development, the quantity of wastewater generated and its overall pollution load are increasing globally. Improving the way we manage wastewater means valuing it for its potential, rather than discarding or ignoring it.

o Fun fact: Cape Town reuses just 5% of its treated wastewater, compared to Israel who reuses 85% of it.

Scarcity: Water scarcity can mean scarcity in availability due to physical shortage or in excess of supply. In the last century, water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase. Therefore, water should be treated more as a scarce resource than something we all have in large amounts and availability. 

What you can do on World Water Day (and beyond)

What can you do on World Water Day?

While we may not be able to directly impact our country’s wastewater management system, there are things we can do on World Water Day and beyond to take action and ownership over the world water crisis. Being accountable for our personal water footprint is one way to start, meaning paying attention to how much water we use every day and doing what we can to lessen the amount. 

Here are some ways to conserve water and get involved:

Stop using plastic water bottles. Did you know that it takes at least twice as much water to produce a plastic water bottle as the amount actually contained in the bottle? Check out this website for other products and how much water it takes to produce them.

Repair or report leaky faucets and running toilets. According to The Guardian, fixing a leaky tap could save tens of thousands of litres of clean water every year (and it’ll save you money too).

o Did you know that internal toilet components start to degrade after 4-6 years? That’s why Minto Apartments conducts toilet renewal projects to fix leaks. And you can too, it’s simple!

o Conduct a toilet dye test. Our Minto Apartments’ Sustainability team gave us some easy advice on checking if your toilet is leaking: the toilet dye test! All you need is food colouring or a dye tablet – drop it in your toilet tank water (don’t flush) and wait 15 minutes or so. If you see colour appear in the toilet bowl, there’s a leak. This means you’ll likely need to replace the toilet flapper valve. 

Go with low-flow. Changing showerheads is super easy, and can be quite inexpensive. And while low-flush toilets are a bit pricier to buy and replace, they can result in significant water savings.

o At most Minto Apartments buildings across Canada, low-flow showerheads and 3L toilets have been installed to prevent leaking toilets and support water conservation. The three litre retrofit program that began in 2013, is largely responsible for the significant water intensity reductions we’ve seen over the past five years in our Canadian apartment rentals. 

o In addition, all new Minto Communities developments are built with low-flow fixtures, surpassing building code and saving tons of water each year. 

Scrape dishes before washing instead of rinsing them. Why use that extra water when you don’t need to? Plus, this helps keep your drain pipes nice and clear.

Fill the sink to wash dishes. If you wash dishes by hand, fill the sink rather than running the tap over them the whole time. You’ll save more soap this way, too.

Run full loads only. This goes for your dishwasher and your laundry! And for laundry, use cold water when you can. Cold water uses less energy which in-turn consumes less water.

Take shorter showers. A long shower can be therapeutic at times. If you’re really attached to your long showers, try a low-flow showerhead or limit the number you take every month.

Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth. This is a big one! It might seem so small, but what’s the point of having it running?

Water your lawn and flowers in the morning. If you’re in charge of maintaining your lawn at home, water it early in the morning to reduce evaporation, or consider using a drip hose or drip irrigation. Better yet, replace your lawn with a drought tolerant pollinator-friendly garden to conserve water and save the bees and other pollinators!

Drink less pop. Wait, what? Many products we use on a daily basis have a greater impact on the global water supply than we’d think. For example, one half-litre serving of pop requires approximately 175 litres of water to produce!

Watch a documentary. Check out your favourite streaming service for water documentaries by searching “water” in the search menu. FLOW, Tapped, and Blue Gold are a few good ones to check out. These will help get you educated so you can start making changes!

Make a donation, volunteer, or sign a petition. There are all sorts of organizations working towards ending the world water crisis. Search around online and find an organization you feel passionate about, and then you can choose how you want to be a part of it.

World Water Day really is something we should pay attention to every day. The best thing you can do is get informed and spread the word. Let us know what you’ve done to save water today, or any other day, on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to make our list of saving-water-tips longer!