World Water Day is worth paying attention to year round

World Water Day poster
WWD 2017 poster (click to enlarge)
By Connie Zehr

Have you heard of the “Sludge to Energy “plant in Xiangyang, China, the restoration of the Balkans “Lake of Apples”, or water pollution controls in Bangladesh’s textile industry? If you’d like to broaden your awareness of global issues, take just a little time to browse through one of the United Nations World Water Day websites, hosted by the UN Water Group. World Water Day is an annual awareness project, officially celebrated on March 22, but worthy of our attention all year round.

The United Nations has generated global Sustainable Development Goals, also called Seventeen Goals to Transform our World, first widely publicized in 2015.

Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation for All) is an ambitious target to provide everyone on Earth with access to safe water by 2030. This is a challenge considering that, at present, about one-third of the world’s population cannot claim this basic right. Contaminated water affects the health of millions, who may contract polio, typhoid, dysentery and cholera, or spend hours a day managing their water supply.

In addition to the perennial need for sustainable drinking water treatment and sanitation, the UN reminds us that water scarcity looms on the horizon for many global citizens as the climate changes.

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As professionals in environmental engineering and ecology, we are well aware of the scope and extent of these important challenges but don’t always get to celebrate progress toward improvements. Every year UN-Water publishes resources and success stories from around the world on specific subtopics related to Goal 6. Recent clean water and sanitation themes have included Water and Energy (2014), Water and Sustainable Development (2015), and Water and Jobs (2016).

The 2017 theme is Wastewater and the website has useful background documents written for the general public. Several projects are profiled, including the St. Petersburg, Florida, dual distribution system for reclaimed water, the on-site wastewater treatment at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (functionally equivalent to a city of 45,000 people) or the use of desalination technology to reclaim mining wastewater in South Africa. Other links are for specialists and lead to technical sites (Antimicrobial Resistance), research agencies (Isotope Hydrology), or projects like the training of water chemists in Bihar, India.

TV Ontario’s “Down in the Sewer” flushables video and the position paper on energy and water sponsored by AWWA and WEF are both included in this year’s theme. Others involve tropical issues like irrigation water concerns, Brazil’s wastewater challenges, or the dry lake in Colombia that was recovered with recycled water.

Here are a few suggestions to inspire your own learning or enliven events with clients, coworkers, tour groups or presentation audiences, during World Water Day or year-round:

  • Jazz up a bulletin board with a downloadable poster. There are sharp infographics and colourful images in a variety of languages.
  • Use the Instagram and Facebook links for a quick electronic visit to a new location.
  • Across the globe, how much wastewater flows back to nature untreated? Spend 50 seconds with colourful video on the topic.
  • Try the new wastewater calculation app or add an animation to a presentation.
  • How many of the glamourous celebrities (other than Shania Twain) for safe water do you recognize?
  • Notice or celebrate World Toilet Day (Nov 19).

Connie Zehr is with the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Centennial College in Toronto. This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s June 2017 issue.


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