Guest Column | August 23, 2016

Water For Life

Mark LeChevallier

By Mark LeChevallier, principal and manager, Dr. Water Consulting, LLC

Water For Life

Look back with me a full decade (and a year) to 2005.

Hurricane Katrina devastated and forever changed the Louisiana and Mississippi coastal communities.

On the silver screen Madagascar and Brokeback Mountain were popular, while shows like Arrested Development and Lost captivated TV viewers. And for the first time, the world had a look at YouTube and the Xbox 360.

A quick online search provides a plethora of such “remarkable” happenings from 2005, but ironically it takes a great deal more digging to find mention of one particular event that made a huge global impact, and, in fact, will forever impact future generations.

I’m talking about the launch of the United Nation’s Water for Life initiative — a decade dedicated to the promotion of international water efforts and raising water’s profile on the global agenda. I was curious to see what the U.N. was saying about the decade as well as what comes next.

For over a decade Water for Life has driven many advances that have been followed by the water community. We measured progress in terms of advancing the overall goal of significantly increasing the number of people with access to safe drinking water. But if we take a minute to look at the progress even in broad strokes… well, it’s amazing how much was achieved in just 10 short years.

I could go on and on about the heightened awareness regarding water safety, sanitation, and hygiene issues that exists around the world.

I could also talk about the establishment of partnerships that simply did not exist a decade ago. Today countries, businesses, governments, stakeholders, and community leaders are all working together to help fix the global water issues. It seems that almost everyone now is paying attention, monitoring what’s happening with water worldwide, and either heading up or participating in local efforts to do their part.

Progress can be expressed by the billions of people who gained access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. And, it can be counted by the fact that 64 percent of countries now have integrated water management plans in place.

But for me, personally, the power of the Water for Life decade can be best captured in these three achievements:

First, the global recognition that our planet and water resources have limitations.

Secondly, U.N. Resolution 64-292. Put forth in 2010, with this resolution the United Nations General Assembly formally recognized the human right to water and sanitation. Moreover, it recognized that access to safe drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of ALL human right.

Through these two achievements, the world basically takes on the dual responsibility of assuring all people gain access to safe water, while also protecting our planet’s finite resources!

The final achievement also brings an answer to the question of “what next?” Now that the decade is over, certainly the Water for Life mission doesn’t just stop cold — after all, there are still around 1.8 billion people living with contaminated drinking water. The final achievement on my list is the U.N. General Assembly’s inclusion of a stand-alone global water goal in its Sustainable Development Agenda. Through this action, the U.N. has made clean water and sanitation a priority for all member states. In other words, the Water for Life mission will live on! It has been recognized globally that the mission is not over, and the foundations have been put in place for the work to be done.

One-hundred percent access to safe drinking water and sanitary waste disposal conditions is, indeed, a big dream. But if the world achieved all that it did in the past 10 years and continues on that course, the dream remains in reach.

Image credit: "Water Jet," © Scott Robinson 2005, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/