Richard Connor, Editor in Chief of the UN’s World Water Development Report, encourages sustainable use of water and its resources ahead of World Water Day, which this year is dedicated to drawing attention to groundwater.
By Benedict Mayaki SJ
“Saving water might seem to be a small thing, but it is actually big when everybody does their part… when you are saving water, you are not just protecting the lake or the stream in your neighbourhood; you’re doing much more than that for ecosystems for the climate and for the planet.”
Richard Connor, Editor in Chief on the United Nations’ World Water Development Report, has this message for everyone on World Water Day celebrated annually on 22 March. He invites us to be conscious about our use of water in order to protect and manage this essential resource.
Water and sanitation
The annual observance of World Water Day is to draw awareness for the over 2 billion people currently living without access to safe water, including the poorest around the world.
Mr. Connor highlights the water crisis which is particularly pronounced in some areas in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where many people do not have access to safe water supply.
Another aspect of this crisis, he notes, is sanitation, as an estimated 4 billion people do not have access to safe sanitation facilities and over 800 million still practice open defecation – a figure that underlines that we have a long way to go to meet the sustainable development goals for water and sanitation.
The theme for World Water Day 2022 is “Groundwater – making the invisible visible.”
The theme shines the light on groundwater which exists in aquifers and saturated zones beneath the land surface. Groundwater is one of our most valuable resources even though we probably never see it or realize it is there, hence the theme dedicated to making the invisible visible.
Mr. Connor explains that groundwater is the major, affordable source of water in many rural populations and plays a crucial role in the development of these communities. Therefore, it is important to ensure that it is made available at an affordable price or for free. Even in cities, the reliance on groundwater is increasing as roughly 50 percent of urban populations now rely on groundwater.
Sustainable use of groundwater
While saltwater, which makes up most of the water on the planet, is not readily fit for human consumption, 99% of consumable freshwater is groundwater which has the advantage of being of high quality and requires very low levels of treatment.
Mr. Connor notes that groundwater, in comparison to surface water, has the added advantage of being less affected by climate change, because it is below the surface and thus, neither transpires nor evaporates. He stresses however the importance of the sustainable use of this precious resource and its protection from contamination.
“When you use groundwater, you have to use it sustainably. You can’t pump it all from the same place, at the same time. You have to spread it out and allow for the groundwater itself, in the groundwater cycles to recharge themselves,” he said.
Water: conflicts and peace
Water, particularly freshwater, is indispensable to human life, and though it is plentiful, it is limited and can become a source of increasing tensions and even violence, particularly in places where the activities of countries on great water bodies are leaving those further downstream poorly supplied.
Mr. Connor explains that it is quite rare that water itself is the source of conflict but rather its management, especially in places where there are trans-boundary waters.
He highlights the importance of creating government systems like aquifer commissions (for aquifers more than 5,000 square kilometers) or Water Basin Commissions among countries with trans-boundary waters, in order to share information about the resource and to find ways to manage it sustainably.
More so, he points out that water “can be a broker of peace” between disputing communities as everyone recognizes that “water is life” and is needed for economic and social growth. He notes that even when there is reason for conflict, communities that have been collaborating over water can use it as a channel of communication that can lead to solving the conflict.
Water management and conservation
“Water management starts in the home,” Mr. Connor insists.
Illustrating the benefits of saving water in the home, he notes that a lot of the water in houses is “used” and not “consumed”.
The used water then has to be evacuated and treated, a process that requires five times more energy than is needed to treat water from the environment, because used water is dirtier and contains more pollutants like detergents.
“When you save water, you are actually contributing to lowering the energy footprint, which in a lot of cases is based on fossil fuel use,” he said.
“So, saving water actually helps the environment and helps combat climate change.”