National Water Manager Sagar Adhikari comments on World Water Day 2018

Did you take a shower this morning?   Maybe you had yours last night.  Have you had your morning cup of tea or coffee?  Did you give a second thought to the primary ingredient in those activities?  Unlikely.  What is also unlikely, I suspect, is that you’re not even aware today is World Water Day.

Given the fact we are all water consumers and the critical state of the global supply it is a wonder that March 22nd doesn’t receive much more prominence.  The outlook is grim.  According to UNESCO:

  • 2.1 billion people (nearly 30% of the world’s population) lack access to safe drinking water
  • 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas
  • An estimated 1.8 billion people use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination
  • More than 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the environment without being treated or reused

The bottom line is all living organisms rely on water in some way to be self-sustainable but for a variety of reasons, we are seeing this precious resource become increasingly contaminated.  The causes of the contamination are many whether it is the result of industrial and agricultural activities, population growth, new infrastructure construction, mining or even natural disasters.

The solutions are difficult and complex.

The theme for World Water Day this year is ‘Nature for Water,’ designed to explore nature-based solutions like “restoring forests, grasslands and natural wetlands, reconnecting rivers to floodplains and creating buffers of vegetation along water courses”.  On its own, however, a nature-based solution is not enough because of the seriousness of some of the contamination.

There are emerging threats that are set to grow in significance over the coming years.  The hard-to -destroy PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) from products like firefighting foam has found its way into waterways and is causing health and environmental concerns across the country and internationally.  Harmful pesticide residues or metabolites are also likely to grow in significance over coming years.  In addition, there is the pervasiveness of trace quantities of pharmaceuticals – not to mention rubbish – in our oceans and waterways.

Cleaning up waterways often requires outside intervention but that is not without cost.  Depending on the desired water standards, environmental remediation can be expensive.  Fortunately, with the development of various remediation technologies, water treatment is becoming not only more effective but more affordable.

Today is important.  For the sake of our planet, we must encourage governments and business to make decisions that will not only prevent and stop environmental damage but also reverse the harm that has already been inflicted on this most precious natural resource.

Sagar Adhikari
National Water Manager