March 22 is UN World Water Day. An auspicious day for water on the global calendar, though New Zealand’s activities on this day fall largely under the radar.
It’s an especially big day this year. 2013 is the UN International Year of Water Cooperation, and World Water Day builds on this theme.
UNESCO has been coordinating the Year’s events, which kicked off with an official Launch Ceremony on 11 February. Megha Kumar won a trip to Paris to attend the launch, after her slogan
water, water everywhere, only if we share
was chosen by UN judges to encapsulate the spirit of cooperation that is the objective. 12,000 slogans were received from more than 180 countries.
At the launch, Tajikistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Zarifi (it was Tajikistan that proposed 2013 be a year for inspiring better water cooperation) declared:
We need to strengthen water diplomacy to achieve the 2015 [deadline] of the Millennium Goals. Only close cooperation can secure the achievement of water goals for people, the environment and the economy. […] We must make this year, a year of strengthened mutual understanding, cooperation and dialogue.
The Netherlands are hosting official celebrations for World Water Day in The Hague, with a diversity of delegates, from inside and outside the ‘water box’. On 21 March, delegates gathered for multi-stakeholder ‘water conversations’, while a High-Level Forum is happening on the 22nd. For the public, there are various events that focus on water cooperation as a foundation for peace and sustainable development.
A key objective of the High Level Forum is:
- to put water cooperation on the agendas of policy and decision makers, water professionals and the wider public
In case you’re thinking this is just the business of the various countries sharing the near 300 river basins in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America – I would argue otherwise. New Zealand, for instance, despite being in the world’s freshwater top ten (having the most fresh water), faces increasing competition for its water resources, with nearly half the nation’s allocated water used for irrigation and 41 per cent used for electricity generation. The consequence of a heavy reliance on irrigation is not only water scarcity during dry spells. With intensive primary production like dairy farming ramped up over the past decade or so, water quality has been hugely impacted, with high concentrations of nutrients and toxins flowing into waterways as run-off. While legislation and a willingness to protect waterways are strongly in evidence, intensive use of land has its effect. As a consequence, there is millions of dollars worth of restoration work to do, with 15 million being spent over two years on five of New Zealand’s most degraded waterways, just for starters.
In reality, no one nation is immune from declining water quality, water scarcity issues, and natural disasters concerning water, and all nations (indeed, all communities), can benefit from fostering a spirit of cooperation. Porirua, the cities of the Hutt Valley, and Wellington, for example, derive their municipal water from the same sources. Water conservation messages (Be the difference campaign, and the recent Use a bit less – make a big difference) have driven down per person water use in recent years. However, Wellington chooses to put its residents under fewer restrictions than Porirua does. Another inconsistency is that Porirua and its near neighbour Kāpiti, actively promote the use of rainwater tanks for outdoor use and emergencies, while for some years, Wellington city has sent out mixed messages, depending on which agency is involved. This creates a perceivable gap between what Porirua people see as the wise use of water, and how Wellington views it. Cooperation in setting regulations, like allowing the use of hoses only on alternate days (this regulation is in force all year in Porirua), would see a more consistent conservation message getting through.
Arguably, even given the long dry period this year, with greater cooperation and by sending more consistent water conservation messages, the Wellington region would not be facing such urgent water scarcity issues at the present time.
What can we do to inspire better water cooperation, be it in our neighbourhoods or on a more global scale?
- Promote the UN International Year of Water Cooperation: you’re invited to use the logo, web banners and other campaign materials;
- Raise awareness of the benefits of water cooperation: visit your Council’s website for local information and tips on saving water and protecting waterways. This link is a resource for the Wellington region. There are brochures, messages, case studies and success stories on the UN site;
- Share your knowledge and your passion for water conservation with people around you;
- Develop people’s capabilities and the water catchment’s capacity to improve, by organising a seminar, a workshop, a stream clean-up day…;
- Promote partnerships, ‘water conversations’ and cooperation in your neighbourhood and beyond;
- Send in your success stories, your pictures, artwork, videos and other creations, so the UN can share them with the world; more...
In the words of Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO:
This World Water Day is a call to action. We must join together today to secure clean water and food for every citizen of the world, now and in the future.
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