There are international themed “days” for everything, ranging from silly to somber. On March 22nd, somewhere in between World Sleep Day and International Whiskey Day is one that I would encourage everyone to acknowledge and celebrate: World Water Day.
World Water Day, at first glance, may sound niche—something only conservation scientists like myself would bother celebrating. But that’s exactly why water needs its day in the sun. Most of us take it for granted. Every. Single. Day. In fact, the only time many of us truly appreciate water is when our access to it is threatened, for example in periods of drought.
Many of the water systems that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population are under stress. Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and rivers are being threatened by poor planned infrastructure, like dams. Climate change is altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others. As a result, water insecurity, already a reality for 3.2 billion people, is going to become more common. The UN estimates that, under the existing climate change scenario, Over 5 billion people could be living with water scarcity by 2050.
But here’s the thing: we can manage this resource—and protect it—if all water users work together. Businesses, every level of government, and local communities must collaborate to ensure water is responsibly governed and shared.
While all users are critical, the private sector has a unique opportunity to effect change at a faster pace. For business, water is both a risk and an opportunity. Without it, a business literally cannot operate. From the fields where raw materials are grown, to manufacturing facilities, and all the way up to corporate headquarters—without water, everything grinds to a halt. But we all know it’s not enough to safeguard your own water resources while neglecting or, worse, depleting water for everyone else. That’s not how water works, and that’s a sure way to make sure a company loses its social license to operate. And so we challenge businesses to become water stewards, to go beyond water efficiency practices and lead collective action in river basins around the world.
This week, in honor of World Water Day, we’ll be running a blog series here on Sustainability Works, featuring voices in water stewardship, including WWF staff and partners. My hope is this will prompt us all to think about our relationship to water—not just how we use what comes out of the tap, but how we can be an active part of a thriving watershed. And for those occupying leadership roles in business, government, or civil society, I encourage you to think even bigger: what actions can I take now? Which other stakeholders, experts, and communities can I partner with? How can I scale my efforts to make the greatest impact?
If we don’t appreciate water now, and act to safeguard this critical resource, we certainly will appreciate it after it’s too late. So let’s celebrate World Water Day today and every day.