World Water Day & UN Water Conference 2023
World Water Day, which took place on March 22, is an annual observance that aims to raise awareness about the importance of access to clean, potable water. At GHC, we want to highlight the importance of access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in global health. This year’s theme was “valuing water,” which highlighted the need to recognize the actual value of water and take action to ensure that it is used sustainably and equitably.
Safe and accessible WASH is essential for human health and well-being as it’s needed for drinking, cooking, and hygiene. It is critical in disease prevention and control, especially in healthcare facilities. However, access to WASH is still a significant challenge in many parts of the world. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, around 2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water at home, and 3.6 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation. Decades of misuse, poor management, over-extraction of groundwater, and contamination have diminished freshwater supplies. At the same time, rising demand from population growth, urbanization, and increasing water needs from agriculture, industry, and energy sectors have made safe water an increasingly scarce resource. This problem is further exacerbated by climate change as it poses a major threat to WASH services.
Inadequate WASH services account for a large part of the burden of illness and death in low- and middle-income countries and are linked to various health problems, such as malnutrition, anemia, and stunted growth. To address these challenges, we need a multi-faceted approach that includes:
- Investing in infrastructure and technology to improve access to clean water and sanitation,
- Promoting behaviors and practices to help conserve water resources,
- Promoting behaviors to help stop the spread of disease, and lastly,
- Promoting community-led approaches to water access and management.
This involves working with communities to identify their needs and priorities, supporting them, and sustaining these interventions.
The global health community also needs to ensure that everyone has equal access to clean water and sanitation by addressing the needs of marginalized and hard-to-reach populations, such as women, children, and people living in rural or remote areas. Fortunately, to commemorate World Water Day, the Biden-Harris Administration announced more than $49 billion in domestic and global action to ensure equitable access and climate-resilient water and sanitation infrastructure remain a priority in the U.S. and around the world. These announcements build upon the White House Action Plan on Global Water Security, launched by Vice President Harris in June 2022, and the 2022 Global Water Strategy.
On the heels of World Water Day this year, the United Nations General Assembly also hosted the first conference focused on water in nearly half a century. A General Assembly resolution established a midterm review of the Water Action Decade 2018-2028. A major outcome of the conference was the Water Action Agenda, a collection of voluntary commitments from various stakeholders to accelerate progress in the second half of the Water Action Decade.
Let’s allow this day to serve as a reminder of the significance of access to clean water. We have a call to action – recognizing the value of water and its key role in preventing disease and improving the quality of life for communities around the globe.