Valuing water is critical to sustaining life on Earth

Water, the essential building block of life, is at the core of sustainable development. It is a pillar of human health, socio-economic development, and biodiversity protection. Water is at the heart of adaptation to climate change, serving as a crucial link between human society and environmental changes.

Despite the fact that it covers 70% of our planet, water is a finite and irreplaceable resource. Only 3% of the water on Earth is freshwater, and two-thirds of that resides in frozen glaciers. Today, approximately 80% of the world’s population is exposed to high levels of threat to water scarcity and 2.2 billion people are living without access to clean water.

The theme for World Water Day 2021 is valuing water. This day provides an opportunity to focus our attention on the importance of water and advocate for the sustainable management of our planet’s precious resource. Managed efficiently and equitably, water can play a vital role in strengthening the resilience of social, economic, and environmental systems.

Water sustainability is, therefore, at the core of the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) priorities. On this day, the GEF is highlighting the multidimensional value of water and the need to safeguard this critical resource for the benefit of people and the planet.

Water * Climate Change * Glaciers

The negative effects of climate change are primarily seen through changes in the water cycle. As climate changes, droughts, floods, and melting glaciers intensify, often with severe consequences for crops and ecosystems. Steffen Hansen, an Environmental Specialist at the GEF, works closely on transboundary cooperation in Europe and Central Asia, where glacial melting threatens to drain many countries of their water sources. He emphasizes, “Glaciers, which are feeding the rivers in the region, constitute the very frontier of climate change.” In recognition of that fact, the GEF’s Central Asian Glacial Project, managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aims to increase the resilience of countries that depend on natural resources from glacierized regions. Read the blog.

Water * Health * Hydration

One of the greatest environmental threats to health is the lack of access to clean water. This is especially true for Tanzanians living near Mbarali River, part of the larger Rufiji River basin in southern Tanzania. Activities such as livestock grazing, farming too close to riverbanks, and improper waste disposal have resulted in a decreased quantity and quality of water supplied by the river. An initiative executed by the Nairobi Convention and funded by the GEF aims to improve the water quality and flow in order to sustain biodiversity downstream and ensure the water is safe to drink once more. Read the story.

Water * Wildlife Crime * Maritime Trafficking

Over 90% of the world’s trade goes by sea, making maritime transport the chief avenue used by smuggling networks to ship illegal wildlife products such as ivory, pangolin scales, and timber. Until recently, wildlife traffickers using sea freight have gone largely undetected due to weak enforcement capacity and limited coordination among shipping companies. A UNDP-led and GEF-financed maritime trafficking project is supporting the development of guidelines, courses, and training programs to encourage improved security measures across shipping supply chains. Check out the photo-essay.

Water * Chemicals & Waste * Pollution

Laguna de Bay is the Philippines’ largest lake, and supplies Metro Manila’s 16 million people with a third of their fish. It also supports agriculture and hydro-power generation for many Filipinos residing nearby. However, serious pollution from untreated sewage and industrial waste has taken a toll on the health and productivity of the lake. When chemical pollutants accumulate in a body of water, they deplete the oxygen levels that fish need to survive. In an effort to prevent further contamination and restore fish populations, the GEF and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) fund a project that works closely with locals to clean up Laguna de Bay. Read the story.

Water * Biodiversity * Ecosystems

Wetlands are diverse habitats that serve as vital sources of biome health. Sometimes referred to as the ‘kidneys of the earth,’ wetlands have the ability to filter and store contaminants before they reach our lakes, rivers, and other waterways. A project with funding from the GEF and UNDP aimed to conserve biodiversity and reduce pollution within China’s Yangshan Wetlands. At present, the Yangshan Wetlands are being fully restored and protected by the implementation of two national wetland parks. Learn more.

Water * COVID19 * Sanitation

Access to clean water for sanitation has been the first line of defense during the COVID-19 pandemic. Equally important in the fight against the virus are well developed drain and sewer systems to dispose of waste in a safe manner. As governments and health agencies look to invest in better hygiene standards to prevent future disease outbreaks, more resources are likely to be directed towards installing pipes, taps, and wells. Mark Smith, Director General of the CGIAR International Water Management Institute, emphasizes that there is an opportunity to learn from the challenges related to water scarcity. He writes, “The world has a chance, through the COVID-19 recovery, to recognize the importance of water to the resilience of communities worldwide.” Read the blog.

Water * Adaptation * Drought

Dry seasons and water shortages are persistent challenges in the Puntland region of Somalia. In the worst-affected areas, crops and livestock have been entirely wiped out, leading to widespread food insecurity and loss of income. Prolonged drought ultimately leads to inflated water prices, which can be catastrophic for families and entire villages. The Biyo-Gadud sand dam is one of the water harvesting structures implemented in Puntland to reduce the impacts of disasters like droughts and floods. Completed by the Puntland Ministry of Environment, through a GEF-financed, UNDP-supported project, the sand dam is saving livestock and saving lives. Read the story.

The Valuing Water Initiative — Better decisions impacting water

The Valuing Water Initiative (VWI) was launched in January 2019 to implement the Valuing Water Principles developed by the United Nations and World Bank High-Level Panel on Water. The Valuing Water Principles seek to bring systemic change in the way water is valued in decision-making to ensure we can live in a sustainable water-secure world. Learn more here.

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