World Water Day 2023
If the world had 100 people, 25 would be forced to drink unsafe water from streams (or queue for hours and pay exorbitant prices for bottled water). 22 people would have to use their local surroundings as a toilet, and every person would have witnessed half of their wetlands disappear while industry used 80% of the water resources.
This is our reality, except the world has over 8 billion people. If the world did have 100 people, we would not accept the situation, so why do we accept it with 8 billion?
What is World Water Day?
World Water Day takes place every year on March 22. It aims to raise awareness about the importance of freshwater resources and the need for humans to manage and conserve these resources sustainably. Each year, a specific theme is chosen to highlight a particular aspect of water management or conservation. This year, the theme is Groundwater: Making the Invisible, Visible.
Over the past 21 years, World Water Day has helped to raise awareness about the global water crisis and has encouraged governments, organisations, and individuals to take action to protect and conserve freshwater resources.
The world in crisis – why we need World Water Day
- Approximately 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and more than 4 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. (Oxfam)
- By 2050, the world's population is expected to reach 9.7 billion, which will increase the demand for water by 55% compared to 2015. (United Nations)
- Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the world’s population and is projected to affect two-thirds of the global population by 2025. (WWF)
- Around 80% of the world's wastewater is discharged untreated, leading to the pollution of rivers, lakes, and oceans. (World Bank)
- More than 90% of natural disasters are water-related, including floods, droughts, and storms. (UN Environment Programme)
- Climate change is exacerbating water scarcity and pollution, with some regions experiencing increased frequency and severity of droughts and floods. (United Nations)
- Around 700 million people worldwide are at risk of being displaced by water scarcity and related environmental factors by 2030. (World Health Organisation)
(No) water and sanitation for all
The world is dangerously off target to meeting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all. SDG 6 aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.
World Water Day supports SDG 6, and for that reason, it is more important than ever.
Here are just some of the changes we need to make:
- Provide the 144 million people who still rely on untreated surface water sources with access to safe drinking water.
- Provide 2.3 billion people with basic sanitation facilities.
- Ensure that nobody is affected by water scarcity—which is increasing as the water demand continues to grow.
- Reduce the quantity of wastewater discharged untreated into the environment, thus improving water quality.
- Reduce climate change, which is having a massive impact on water scarcity and pollution.
World Water Day is one initiative highlighting the need for more significant efforts and resources to achieve SDG 6 by 2030. But it's not enough; we need more coordinated action and investment to ensure everyone can access safe and sustainable water and sanitation services.
Water sustainability and use issues in the UK
Droughts in Australia; floods in Bangladesh. We often think of water issues only affecting faraway places, but there are also crucial water sustainability and use issues in the UK.
Some regions in the UK, particularly in the southeast, experience water scarcity due to low rainfall and high demand. If the situation is not addressed, it may lead to water restrictions and rationing, causing economic and social impacts.
Rural regions with intensive farming practices, including East Anglia (potatoes), the South West (dairy farming) and the North West (sheep farming), have high levels of water pollution from agricultural runoff, which can impact human health and the environment.
Many areas of the UK, including East Anglia, the South West, and Yorkshire, are prone to flooding, which can significantly impact people, property, and infrastructure. Managing flood risk requires careful water management and planning.
Much of the UK's water infrastructure is old and needs to be repaired or replaced. Ageing infrastructure can lead to leaks and other problems that waste water and decrease efficiency.
Sewage overflows are a significant problem in the UK, which has one of Europe's highest rates of sewage spills (mainly due to its ageing system). Spillages cause water pollution, public health risks, foul odours, and economic impacts as they compromise water quality in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.
Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach from government, business, and the general public, involving careful water management and planning, investment in infrastructure and technology, and changes in behaviour and practices.
How can businesses contribute to water sustainability?
Businesses and industries hold the key to long-term water sustainability. Not only do they have a moral obligation, but ensuring water sustainability is also an economic and ESG necessity.
Companies can take many actions to improve water quality and simultaneously reduce costs. By doing so, businesses can help improve water resources while lowering operational costs and enhancing corporate reputations.
Reducing and recycling water by using water-efficient technologies and practices can significantly impact local water resources. Businesses could use water-efficient equipment, adopt closed-loop water systems, and implement water conservation measures in their operations.
Companies can reduce their impact on local water sources by minimising or eliminating the discharge of pollutants into waterways. This can include improving wastewater treatment systems, reducing the use of hazardous chemicals, and adopting sustainable practices.
Investment in wastewater treatment systems, including building or upgrading water treatment facilities, using sewage technologies, and adopting industrial technologies, can have many positive impacts, in addition to investing in sustainable water supply systems.
If businesses work with local communities, governments, and other stakeholders, they can jointly develop sustainable water management solutions that benefit all parties. This could involve participating in local water management forums, engaging with local communities on water-related issues, and collaborating with other businesses to address shared water challenges.
When companies report on how they contribute to water sustainability, they build trust with local communities, investors, and other stakeholders, demonstrating a commitment to sustainable water management. Carrying out a trade effluent audit is a great place to discover how your company is doing.
How can we all contribute to water sustainability?
While corporations and industry have the most significant impact on water—and therefore the greatest responsibility—we can all contribute positively. We can greatly improve water sustainability if we all do at least one of the following actions.
- Take five-minute showers.
- Fix leaking water and waste pipes, empty full septic tanks, and report sludge dumping.
- Don't put food waste, oils, medicines, or chemicals in the toilet or drains.
- Don't throw away edible food, as reducing food wastage reduces demand on agriculture—one of the world's biggest water consumers.
- Turn off devices when they are inactive. As power generation is water intensive, turning things off means less energy needs to be produced.
- Find out how water resources are being used in your area and pressure companies that are breaking the rules by writing to local elected representatives.
- Choose what you can do personally from the UN’s list of important actions.
- Shop sustainably. A typical pair of jeans takes 10,000 litres of water to produce, equal to what a person drinks in 10 years.
- Choose a plant-based meal. It typically takes between 3,000 and 5,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of rice, 2,000 litres for 1kg of soya, 900 litres for 1kg of wheat and 500 litres for 1kg of potatoes.
- Get involved in the office and at home.
World Water Day is a wake-up call: no matter what country we live in, water issues negatively impact us. We are all part of the problem, meaning we can all be part of the solution. Governments, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play. After all, we can live without tomatoes (not that we want to), but we can't live without water.
Written by Jon Greaves
Jon has progressively worked through operational roles, account management, technical management, and senior management roles over the last 16 years within one of the group companies before moving into the role of Water and Air Managing Director. Jon has experience across multiple sectors of water and air compliance, including district energy networks; data centres; healthcare; food and beverage and facilities management. Jon acted as a corresponding steering committee member on CIBSE CP1 – Heat Networks Code of Practice for the UK released in 2020.