March 16, 2020

World Water Day

The United Nations will commemorate World Water Day and celebrate freshwater on March 22.  Amidst the celebration of water, we recognize the ongoing struggle of many people around the world who cannot easily access clean water and sanitation.  The continued degradation of Earth and gender inequality create complications on the path to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6, access to water for all.  The privatization of water, and corporate impunity, further complicates the work towards an equitable achievement of SDG 6.  The intersection of these issues continues to create a barrier to the full enjoyment of the right to water, which is necessary for all other goals and rights.  

Our world’s climate continues to change as pollution and greenhouse gases build.  Weather patterns, especially rainfall, have already shifted because of global warming.  Scientists do not expect climate change to reverse and many believe it will get worse.  The diminished rainfall resulting from climate change makes it harder to grow the crops needed to feed our growing global population.  The effects of rain and food shortfall is already noticeable in vulnerable communities, and especially by children.  UNICEF projects climate change will continue to cause food, water, and sanitation scarcity and lead to a diminished child survival rate for approximately one in four children by 2040.[1] 

The worsening water shortage intersects with the reality of gender inequality experienced around the world.  For example, in eight out of ten households without access to clean water, women and girls travel, carrying the water their families will need that day.[2]  In a climate of inequality, carrying water exposes women and girls to additional harassment and violence.  Additionally, school attendance rates are typically lower for girls responsible for carrying water because of the time involved and the lack of menstrual hygiene that results from inaccessible water.  Enhancing access to water will minimize gender discrimination and improves the lives of women and girls through access to education.

Download the infographic here (PDF)

Reducing water scarcity in some areas may require new or improved infrastructure, but it will also mean lifestyle changes for all.  UN Water, an organization that coordinates water efforts, encourages better daily water practices like shorter showers, and lesser-known actions like conserving power.  With 75% of industrial water usage going towards energy production, reducing the amount of electricity we use will keep water in our already stressed ecosystems.[3]  Smarter use of water, coupled with better protections for our watersheds, will help preserve our climate’s water system and improve our ability to preserve important carbon sinks like wetlands and oceans as we work for climate justice.

In the effort to promote climate justice, we must also contend with the disturbing trend of privatization.  The privatization of water may seem like an efficient approach to ensuring everyone’s access to water.  However, it has become evident that this profit based approach causes further degradation of the Earth, displacement, and human rights violations.[4]  The pollution and depletion of watersheds by agribusiness, mining operations, and beverage companies[5] shows the negative effects of privatization in pursuit of profit.  We must work towards a new paradigm that recognizes the public right to, and responsibility for, water.  Any meaningful achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 must include promoting a commons-based approach to water management that will “empower local communities to protect watersheds and ensure an equitable and sustainable distribution of water resources.”  The lack of international law makes upholding the public right to water difficult since many corporations profiting from water resources operate globally.  Working towards a just legal framework that closes the gaps exploited by global corporations would be a meaningful step towards achieving SDG 6.

Just as Catherine McAuley clothed and fed her students because she knew their lives could not improve without first meeting basic needs, we understand the importance of Mercy International Association’s continued commitment to the realization of the right to water.  In our work today, we face the same reality as Catherine; without clean water and sanitation, people cannot fully enjoy all of their human rights.  It is essential for us, as a community of Mercy, to work for the conservation of water and the restoration of the environment ,not only in our personal lives but also as an entity that circles the globe.  Through advocacy and action, locally and internationally, Mercy International Association can address people’s need for water and promote a more just and equitable reality for all.

For a more in-depth study of SDG 6, please see Water & Sanitation: A People’s Guide to SDG 6, a Rights-Based Approach to Implementation.


[1] “Water and Climate Change.” UN Water.

[2] “Water and Gender.” UN Water.

[3] “Water, Food and Energy.” UN Water.

[4] Lyons, Amanda. Water & Sanitation: A People’s Guide to SDG 6, a Rights-Based Approach to Implementation. 2016. p5.

[5] ibid. p4.

Messages to: Amanda Carrier rsm, MIA-MGA Intern

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