As members and friends of the World Affairs Council, we all value our access to knowledge about the world and its complexities. Although many of our Friday presentations focus on geopolitical and economic issues, there is much more that influences the world around us. Every year on March 22, World Water Day is celebrated to emphasize the importance of water and this year’s theme is Valuing Water.
As you think about this, the value of water is more than just its price. Water is valuable for our health, food, peace of mind, our natural environment – and for our economy. Here on Hilton Head some may take water for granted. We have direct access to the ocean but we are still dependent on a continuing supply of freshwater from a variety of sources – deep wells and the Savannah River in particular – and we should not take that access for granted. There are communities in the US that still suffer from water crises. Flint, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi recently gained national attention for their lack of clean water and, closer to home, local water sources for Bamberg, South Carolina have been contaminated for years.
When we look around the world, water is a major concern for many countries. According to the UN, water quality has worsened since the 1990s in Latin America, Africa and Asia, with severe pathogen pollution affecting around one third of all rivers in those regions. Today, 1.6 billion people lack soap or water, and 1.4 billion have no in-home facilities at all. Almost 300,000 children under five years old die every year from poor sanitation, poor hygiene or unsafe drinking water. Water scarcity has been a source of conflict for hundreds of years and potential conflicts over water access can potentially lead to serious conflict between countries today, particularly in Middle East.
World Water Day is a time to reflect on how we can’t take water for granted. Here at home, we all need to recognize its value and do what we can to protect and conserve it. It’s a critical component of the world we live in.