The Earth is known as the “Blue Planet” because 71 percent of its surface is covered with water. The oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water. Of the waters occupying the planet’s surface, only 3 percent is considered freshwater. And most of this freshwater reserve is inaccessible to humans — locked up in polar ice caps or stored too far underneath the Earth’s surface to be extracted. Furthermore, much of the freshwater that is accessible has become highly polluted. This leaves us with roughly 0.4 percent of the Earth’s water that is usable and drinkable to be shared among seven billion people.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 1992, declaring March 22 of each year as World Day for Water, to be observed starting in 1993. World Water Day is celebrated in order to raise awareness about the inaccessibility of water for billions of people.
The world’s precious water resources are “in deep trouble” and leaders are meeting at UN Headquarters this week to address what has become a multifaceted global crisis, before it is too late.
This historic United Nations Water Conference—the first in nearly 50 years—was organized this year as part of the global celebration of World Water Day. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund called on all nations to radically accelerate action to make water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) a reality for all.
A new report—UN World Water Development Report 2023—launched on the eve of the first major UN conference on water, showed staggering numbers: Around the world, 2 billion people lack safe drinking water and 3.6 billion people—almost half the world’s population—use sanitation services that leave human waste untreated.
Millions of children and families do not have adequate WASH services, including soap to wash their hands. The consequences can often be deadly. The report said each year at least 1.4 million people—many of them children —die from preventable causes linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation. “Right now, for example, cholera is spreading in countries that have not had outbreaks in decades. Half of all health care facilities—where proper hygiene practices are especially critical—lack water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizing solution.”
Water is the lifeblood of humanity. It is vital for survival itself and supports the health, resilience, development and prosperity of people and planet alike. As this year’s UN report reminds us, protecting and preserving this precious resource for future generations depends on partnerships. The smart management and conservation of the world’s water resources means bringing together governments, businesses, scientists, civil society and communities—including indigenous communities—to design and deliver concrete solutions.
At this week’s United Nations Water Conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres underscored that water is a human right and critical to development that will shape a better global future. “But water is in deep trouble,” he warned. “We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and evaporating it through global heating. We’ve broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater.”
The UN chief urged countries to come together and find solutions to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to clean and safe water. Guterres said: “Now is the moment to stand together and invest in the management and governance of the world’s water resources and freshwater ecosystems. We must strengthen accountability and equitable water access for all people, and place conservation of this precious resource first across national and global plans and priorities.”
We can all help preserve the world’s water resources. We can all help protect the planet’s freshwater ecosystems. We all have an important role to play in helping preserve and protect the lifeblood of humanity.