World water day: one day activism

Today is World Water Day. I have to admit that I had no idea that such event existed until my newly set up twitter established #water as the trend for the day. So apparently water is in today and we should all care.

©CREATIVE COMMONS; Image credit: Dschwen

The United Nation’s World Water Daywas first launched back in 1993 and has since then run with the aim to promote clean and accessible water for all. This year’s motto « Water, Water everywhere only if we share » is another reminder of the increasing inequality in the distribution of the vital resource that is water.

For the facts, some frantic googling research has updated me with the latest UN figures85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet. 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases…. and you will be able to go through this endless list of facts if you have the time for some deep depression.

But we don’t need the facts to know that the situation is really bad. Nor do I think there is much point in once again going over the “how-lucky-we-are-us-western-inhabitants-of-opening-the-tap-to-some-clean-and-fresh-water” discourse.

What I find more interesting is this habit of setting up a special day dedicated to each problem our societies can’t deal with. If there is a Women’s Day, does it mean that the 364 remaining ones belong to men? If there is a day to think about the scarcity of water does it justify leaving the tap running during the daily 3min tooth brush the rest of the year?

Surely we wouldn’t be able to deal with all catastrophes humanity is facing on a daily basis; humanity can’t carry its own burden.

Climate change for breakfast, violence against animals for lunch, water scarcity for tea

Climate change for breakfast, violence against animals for lunch, water scarcity for tea, and domestic abuse in the evening: life would look so awfully hopeless!

For each day it’s pain and one thing at a time: yesterday was spring and today is water. Yet, the risk is that, as a never coming spring, the World Water Day acts as a feel-good form of activism with limited buds. It is fine for today to be a global reflection on the way in which we are using water, but “water day” is every day whilst taps run and teeth are being cleaned and drops keep splashing the bathroom long after the shower was taken.

Global issue days might be suitable to raise awareness and boost donations and membership lists, yet none of that is even near the top of the iceberg of work which needs to be done daily and by everyone. The World Water Day covers for some of the issues which both the UN and governments don’t want on their agendas right now. So if the “Top 10 list of how to save water at home” is waved about on social media and other internet platforms, nothing is being said on the use of water by industries and businesses.

Unfortunately, it seems a common feature of such important matters to be tackled by the end of the leaves rather than at the root of the problem. This passive activism has become the perfect tool for nothing to change and yet benefit from an appeased conscience by having good intentions.

Despite so much cynicism, let’s be glad we, at least, have one day – and only one – to think about water, and we might as well do it properly. So if ever you did know it was World Water Day, and if you did pay attention to the amount of time you spend in the shower, do enjoy the feel-good sentiment, but let’s not make it the end of the story.

Tomorrow won’t be water day any more, and who knows what it will be trendy to think about; yet, we will still be waiting for spring to come and we will still need water to be spared.

Published on The Yorker March 22, 2013

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