World Water Day, Are Nature-Based Solutions Enough?
By admin March 22, 2018

Taking place each year on March 22nd, World Water Day is a unique opportunity for the international community to focus on the vital importance of water and to commit to taking collective action to ensure its conservation for future generations. This year marks the beginning of the United Nations’ (UN) “Decade of Action” for water.

The theme of this year’s World Water Day is “Nature for Water,” which, “explores nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.”

In theory, NBS are the ideal resolution to problems in nature. The UN advises to plant more trees, restore wetlands, and reconnect rivers to floodplains during this Decade of Water. But while the NBS campaign will no doubt generate a lot of one-day support of many non-state actors, sustainable solutions to water or related challenges need to be the focus of government, public and private spheres within development in order to fully actualize the UN’s mandate for the decade of action for water.


Water Treatment

The challenges to access water are clearly dire, currently; 2.1 billion people “lack access to safely managed drinking water services,” while an estimated 1.8 billion “use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human feces.”

The investment in developing water and wastewater treatment plants is necessary to expand the accessibility to clean water as well as the safe removal of storm and waste water. However, the physical presence of these facilities will only suit the needs of the community as much as their capacity is to manage them. Expanding population growth and occurrences of natural disasters in many countries, require adequate wastewater and water treatment facilities with qualified personnel to meet current and future development needs.

Additionally, advocates are calling for Low-Impact Development (LID) to replace outdated forms of infrastructure. LID is a design principle that looks to treat and manage water as close to its source as possible. “Slow it down, soak it up, keep it clean” is the motto which drives efforts to absorb stormwater before it washes pollutants into water supplies. New, innovative forms of wastewater management are a piece of this principle, efficiently managing stormwater in a way that maximizes the value of the resource and puts it back where it can again support health ecosystems.


Water Scarcity

Beyond the challenge of accessing clean water, the global community is also facing a growing challenge of too much water in some places and not enough water in others. According to the UN’s 2018 World Water Development Report, this is being driven not only by climate change, but by population, economic growth and poor water management.

According to the UN’s 2018 report, “an estimated 3.6 billion people live in areas that are potentially water-scarce at least one month per year, and this population could increase to some 4.8-5.7 billion by 2050.”

The current drought and water-crisis in Cape Town, South Africa is a modern example of the pervasiveness of ongoing water scarcity and the reverberating effects on the population’s health and economy. It begs the question of whether it is ethical to holiday in water-starved countries. Additionally, it highlights the lack of local governments preparedness to balance water management with economic and population growth. Governments need access to resources and education on water management, zoning, natural disaster response and flood plains management in order to prioritize growth, within reason, that matches their ability to secure future access to clean water, wastewater treatment, and stormwater mitigation.


Fight Against Pollution

Pollution has been synonymous with the topic of water since the 1960s. Last year, scientists from the State University of New York in Fredonia, discovered microplastic contamination in tap water around the world. The Guardian’s environment editor noted some of the tragic details, “The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94 percent, with plastic fibers found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York City.”

A new study sponsored by the World Health Organization, has additionally found microplastics in 93 percent of worldwide samples of popular bottled water brands, leaving humanity with the question of what, exactly, are we supposed to drink?

According to the National Ocean Services, the source of these microplastic contaminants range from microbeads in health and beauty products to larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastics are not a recent problem, and it questions the level of responsibility for the private sector influences that utilize and distribute products that increase the exposure to potential microplastics. Private sector engagement in water stewardship is both vital to continuing business operations and integral to responsible business conduct. Every business depends on and impacts water resources and their range of influence can be dire without proper intention to decrease their utilization of plastic material in their business, operations, and products.

The larger challenges to secure the future for safe water need to extend beyond the possible NBS solutions and one day promotion of water security. In order to make positive, lasting adjustments to procuring safe water for the global community, public and private sector actors need to utilize strategic planning for water management, capacity building in their initiatives invest in new water treatment facilities, and private sector environmental stewardship needs to be threaded through all aspects of their business. Collectively, all state and non-state actors’ actions can make a considerable impact in this decade of action for water.

My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” -David Mitchel, Cloud Atlas.


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