Reflecting on World Water Day
March 22, 1993 was designated as the first World Water Day in response to the recommendation of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. World Water Day draws attention to the necessity of caring for and protecting freshwater so as to maintain a sustainable supply for an increasing population. This year’s theme for World Water Day is “Leaving no one behind”.
Reflecting on the fact that the survival of our planet, the survival of human life and indeed the survival of every species of life depends on water, it may seem unimaginable today that approximately 840,000,000 people globally would be without safe drinking water, but this is the reality as reported by the World Health Organization.1 This includes Canada where there are currently 75 long-term drinking water advisories affecting more than 50 Indigenous communities across the country, according to Indigenous Services Canada.2 This is in addition to the many other rural areas across Canada which regularly experience boil water orders. Ensuring that everyone has access to a supply of clean, healthy water and that equitable distribution of water is maintained is a huge challenge and responsibility.
The Human Right to Water
In 2010 the United Nations explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and called upon the international community to provide financial assistance to developing countries in their struggle to provide clean water for all. It was not until 2015 that Canada finally accepted responsibility for this and signed on to the resolution. The challenge now is to make sure that our country as well as the other countries are vigilant in honouring this commitment3.
We might be tempted to leave this responsibility in the capable hands of the United Nations, environmentalists and scientists with the belief that they are the experts with the necessary knowledge and skills. However, as people of faith, or as neighbours in a global community in which we are all interrelated and interconnected, do we not need to rethink this? Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si, reminds us that our vocation in life is to be protectors of God’s handiwork and that this is an essential part of our faith. (LS 217) The Pope also writes that we do this through an integral ecological lens whereby we see and attend to both the cry of Earth and the cry of the poor as being one. (LS 49)
Already Existing World Shortage
Those of us who live on the island portion of this beautiful province surrounded by water and dotted with many ponds, lakes and rivers are aware of our intimate connection to these waters. We realize that ground water plays a vital role in the water supply and in the sustainability of ecosystems and consequently in the well-being of human life. We grieve to hear news of the loss of surface water and the increased use of ground water, and the sufferings of water in many parts of the world as a result of climate change and pollution. Were not our hearts stirred with compassion last year as we watched with our breaths held in fear for the people of Cape Town, South Africa as they came to the brink of having their water supply exhausted and their water taps turned off.4 Yet Cape Town is not alone in this precarious situation. According to the latest assessment by World Aid, an international organization working for water sanitation and hygiene, 80% of India’s surface water is polluted. Likewise, a 2016 survey by the Ministry of Water Resources of over 2000 underground wells tested across heavily populated areas of China found that more than 80% were so badly contaminated as to make the water unfit for human use and consumption5
We are now all too well aware of the serious consequences of climate change in the loss of surface water and the increased use of ground water, creating a grave threat of running out of fresh water and thereby jeopardizing the future life of the planet. The challenge of an increasing population, estimated to reach 9,000,000,000 by 2050, and the estimated 60% more food required to insure food security puts another severe stress on water supply as stated by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. This must all be achieved while conserving and enhancing the natural resource base6. All this calls us to look deep into our own hearts to uncover creative solutions and together to challenge ourselves, our communities, our governments to find more effective and long-lasting ways to protect the health and safety of water.
Messages to: Mary Tee rsm