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World Water Day: Learn to preserve every drop as two-thirds of humanity are haunted by its scarcity

Thomas Fuller's words "We never know the worth of water till the well is dry" ring true, when reports coming in from across the world paint a picture of despair regarding depleting water resources.

22 March has been observed as World Water Day since it was first proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. The UN had designated the day as International World Water Day in 1992 at the same conference.

United Nations selects a theme every year and this year it is 'Why waste water', meaning it will focus on the treatment and economical reuse of waste water.

Some of the issues that have been discussed on this occasion over the years include water pollution, and scarcity and lack of sanitation in rural areas. The UN coordinates programmes for the day in consultation with member organisations in tune with the particular year's theme. On Wednesday, the UN released a report saying recycling the world's waste water, almost all of which goes untreated, would ease global water shortages while protecting the environment.

"Neglecting the opportunities arising from improved wastewater management is nothing less than unthinkable," said Irina Bokova, director-general of Unesco, one of several UN bodies behind the issued report. It said that for decades, people have been using fresh water faster than nature can replace it, contributing in some regions to hunger, disease, conflict and migration.

Two-thirds of humanity currently lives in zones that experience water scarcity at least one month a year. Half of those people are in China and India.

According to a report in Hindustan Times, India has around 63.4 million people living in rural areas without access to clean water, more than any other country. The figures are part of 'Wild Water, State of the World’s Water 2017', a report by WaterAid, a global advocacy group on water and sanitation.

The figure is greater than the combined population of Haryana, Punjab and Uttarakhand. In the global scenario, it would make up the entire population of Sweden, Australia, Sri Lanka and Bulgaria.

 World Water Day: Learn to preserve every drop as two-thirds of humanity are haunted by its scarcity

Representational image. Reuters

VK Madhavan, chief executive of Water Aid India, said 27 out of 35 states and union territories in India are disaster-prone, meaning the poorest people will bear the brunt of extreme weather conditions and climate change and will find it the hardest to adapt.

The Indian Express reported over 50 percent Indians were concerned that the waste water is impacting clean water supply in the country, according to a new study conducted by Ipsos on the occasion of World Water Day. Also, 59 percent Indians expressed concern that residential and industrial growth in next 5 to 10 years may impact the supply of clean water too. India was the third country to be most concerned about clean water supply after Serbia, Mexico and Columbia.

The study was conducted globally and a similar trend was observed as only 34 percent people around the world said they were confident about waste water not impacting clean water supply.

A report by The Guardian discussed the UN's warning that one in four of the world’s children will be living in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040 as a result of climate change.

Within two decades, 600 million children will be in regions enduring extreme water stress, with a great deal of competition for the available supply. The poorest and most disadvantaged will suffer most, according to a research published by the Unicef children’s agency on the occasion. The report 'Thirsting for a Future: Water and Children in a Changing Climate' looked at the threats to children’s lives and well-being caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways in which climate change will intensify these risks.

On current trends, the UN Environment Programme forecasts that water demand — for industry, energy and an extra billion people — will increase 50 percent by 2030. Global warming has already deepened droughts in many areas, and the planet will continue to heat up over the course of the century, even under optimistic scenarios. "There is an absolute necessity to increase water security in order to overcome the challenges brought on by climate change and human influence," said Benedito Braga, head of the World Water Council, an umbrella grouping of governments, associations and research bodies.

Waste water — runoff from agriculture, industry and expanding cities, especially in developing nations — is a major part of the problemme. That is especially true in poor countries where very little, if any, wastewater is treated or recycled. High-income nations treat about 70 percent of the wastewater they generate, a figure that drops to 38 percent for upper middle-income countries. In low-income nations, only eight percent of industrial and municipal wastewater undergoes treatment of any kind. More than 800,000 people die every year because of contaminated drinking water, and not being able to properly wash their hands.

Water-related diseases claim nearly 3.5 million lives annually in Africa, Asia and Latin America — more than the global death toll from AIDS and car crashes combined. Chemicals and nutrients from factories and farms create dead zones in rivers, lakes and coastal waters, and seep into aquifers. The 200-page World Water Development Report details a four-pronged strategy for transforming waste water from a problem to a solution, said lead author Richard Connor of UNESCO's World Water Assessment Programme.

With inputs from the AFP

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Updated Date: Mar 28, 2017 18:42:37 IST