Water will be more important than oil this century. This prediction, made in 1994 by former Secretary-General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has alarming resonance in 2020.
Water resources, in terms of both their quantity and their quality, are under threat. This is because climate change, now in full swing, increases the risk of water shortages.
World Water Day draws attention to the links between global warming and the world water issue.
Access to water and to basic sanitation infrastructure is already precarious in several regions. Today, four billion people worldwide are forced to contend with water scarcity. Studies predict that accelerated global warming will so exacerbate the problem that by 2050, 52% of the earth’s population could be living in areas subjected to water stress. The first victims of this insufficiency will be girls and women, a circumstance which is likely to increase inequality even further throughout the world.
A water crisis is a global crisis. Without sustainable access to water, we will be unable to achieve goals such as quality education or the development of more prosperous, fairer societies. History has demonstrated this. In China and in the Middle East, for example, the major rivers (the Yangtze, Nile and Euphrates) made the first great agrarian and urban civilizations possible.
Given the urgency of the situation, the coming decade needs to be one of action. As the ultimate forum for global conversation, UNESCO has a unique role to play. It was with this in mind that on 24 February the Organization hosted the opening of the 52nd Session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In the same spirit, the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR), published by UNESCO in collaboration with the UN-Water family, will be focused on climate change. The WWDR will set out concrete solutions for ensuring access to water for all: improved water resources management, the mitigation of water-related hazards, easier and more sustainable access to sanitation.
However, action to save the planet and its water will not be useful in the long term unless we make sure that future generations are fully involved. That is the point of environmental education, which is also education about water and about how we can better manage and preserve it. UNESCO has called upon its Member States to incorporate these issues into their school curricula, from pre-primary to elementary, and will share its technical expertise to help them with this undertaking.
For UNESCO, this day is not just about issuing a distressing assessment of the current state of affairs; it must also be about taking action.
And so on World Water Day, we call on States, civil society and regular people to take a stand for the blue gold about which Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said the following in Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars): “Water, thou hast no taste, no colour, no odour; canst not be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself [...]”.