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Water for all and Jesuit response: 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation and World Water Day 2013

28 February 2013

In December 2010, the UN General Assembly declared 2013 as the UN International Year of Water Cooperation and 22 March as World Water Day. This year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater to draw attention to the benefits of cooperation in water management. Successful examples of water cooperation are highlighted and key issues explored, including water diplomacy, transboundary water management, and financial cooperation.

All water systems are extremely complex, be they management systems at the local or national level, internationally shared river basins or parts of the natural hydrological cycle. Managing these systems requires multiple actors, from users and managers to experts from various disciplines and decision-makers. Cooperation is crucial not only to ensure the sustainable and equitable distribution of water but also to foster and maintain peaceful relations within and among communities.

Some facts from the UN website illustrate the contemporary global water situation:

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet
  • 780 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation
  • Six to eight million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases
  • Various estimates indicate that, based on business as usual, ~3.5 planet Earths would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American
  • Global population growth projections of 2–3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, will result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050
  • Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day; urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth
  • Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions, yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention
  • Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources, and agriculture accounts for ~70% of global freshwater withdrawals (up to 90% in some fast-growing economies)
  • Diets that are shifting from predominantly starch-based to meat and dairy require more water and producing 1 kg of rice requires ~3,500 L of water while 1 kg of beef requires ~15,000 L
  • About 66% of Africa is arid or semi-arid and more than 300 of the 800 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in a water-scarce environment – meaning that they have less than 1,000 m3 per capita.

Jesuit awareness
All over the globe, people are increasingly aware of environmental risks in our world through daily events and discussions. Through Healing a Broken World, Father Adolfo Nicolas, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, asked Jesuit people and institutions to understand our relationship with our environment as both ecological and sacred, calling for greater responsibility and reconciliation.

In meetings with the Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN) that is overseen by Fr Patxi Alvarez, water is identified as a specific focus for collaboration under the Ecology Network, with Fr. Jose Ignacio Garcia. The six Jesuit Conferences, through the Social Apostolate, are exploring how to move with such particular concerns at a global level. Fr. Jose Mesa (Secretariat for Basic Education) also asked informally for a common program that could be offered globally for participation by high schools.

Global experiences
Fr. Jose Ignacio Garcia is coordinating discussions in the Ecology Network and experiences from the different regions are emerging. To increase awareness of the global water concerns, the following thematic concerns emerging in the specific region include:

  • Commodification and privatization of water (especially in the US and Europe)
  • Desertification and lack of basic water needs (notably in Africa)
  • Flooding, extreme rainfall events and climate change impact (Asia Pacific)
  • Arsenic poisoning (South Asia)
  • Transboundary issues, rights and access, water pollution and contamination, (Latin America and other regions)

Where is the action?
With the UN declaring 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, there are many opportunities for advocacy and awareness events:

For further information and for related stories and materials to share, please contact the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP)–Ecology Task Force by emailing Pedro Walpole at pedroecojcap(at)gmail.com and for media queries, please contact Ms Mariel de Jesus at marielecojcap(at)gmail.com.

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