Rome, March 22, 2021 – Water is an “essential element of every aspect of development”, QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today during a large virtual celebration to mark World Water Day 2021. He called on all stakeholders to work together to safeguard water and widen access to this precious resource.

World Water Day is held on 22 March every year, with its core focus being to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. FAO hosted World Water Day 2021’s virtual celebration.

In his welcoming address, Qu Dongyu described the gravity of the problem, saying that according to FAO’s 2020 State of Food and Agriculture report “the lives of over a billion people are severely constrained by water scarcity or water shortages”. He added that, in the future, “population growth and changing diets will increase water needs, intensifying competition among water users.”

The Director-General continued by calling on all stakeholders to work together to ensure everyone has safe access to water. “We need the ingenuity of the private sector, the drive of civil society and the solidarity of the international community. We need to create synergy by joining hands and working together,” he said.

World Water Day is held on 22 March every year, with its core focus being to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. Some 2.2 billion people live without access to safe water and the annual amount of available freshwater  per person has declined by more than 20 percent in the past two decades, yet more and more water is needed to nourish crops to feed a growing global population. This year’s World Water Day theme, ‘Valuing Water’, underscores the urgent need to better protect this vital resource.

High level participation

In her opening address, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, said water was a valuable “blue gold”, adding that difficulties in accessing water can also be measured in terms of educational and economic losses. In his speech Gilbert F. Houngbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of IFAD underscored that “water is fundamental to life and livelihoods,” adding that we must take action to improve the management of water resources and accelerate progress if we are to meet SDG 6 by 2030.

The World Water Day virtual celebration included a special recorded message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin on behalf of His Holiness Pope Francis, in which he reiterated that water is a basic and universal human right, something that every human being without exception is entitled to, adding that it is crucial to act to improve access to water worldwide.

David Choquehuanca, Vice-president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, stressed the importance of water as a human right and highlighted the United Nation’s role in ensuring democratic access to water for all. Serigne Mbaye Thiam, Minister of Water and Sanitation of the Republic of Senegal, encouraged stakeholders to work together in a more holistic approach to address water management issues. For her part, Marina Sereni, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Italy, stressed in a video message that fruitful dialogue is needed between different actors in order to find innovative solutions to promote better water management. Jonathan Malagón González, Minister of Housing, Cities and Territory of the Republic of Colombia, described water access as a key policy issue and highlighted Colombia’s commitment and progress to SDG 6. In a video message for the event Henk Ovink, Special Envoy International Water Affairs, The Kingdom of Netherlands, said this year’s theme of ‘valuing water’ is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that washing hands is essential to stopping covid – but many are unable to do so.

UN World Water Development Report 2021

The event also provided an opportunity to launch the UN World Water Development Report 2021, which annually provides an up-to-date overview of the current state of the world’s water. The FAO-led chapter on water use in food and agriculture highlights just how important water is for food security and nutrition. It has been shown that people who have better access to water tend to have lower levels of undernourishment, while lack of it can be a major cause of famine and undernourishment, especially in areas where people depend on local agriculture for food and income. 

FAO’s work on water

In his speech, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu stressed that intensifying water constraints threaten food security and nutrition.

“Challenges in access to water and increasing pollution are seen all along the food supply chain – including food processing – affecting food security, nutrition, health and ecosystem services, and posing major risks to vulnerable populations.”

He drew attention to FAO’s work on water and food security, including the partnership programme Global Framework on Water Scarcity (WASAG), which accelerates joint actions to cope with water scarcity in agriculture in a changing climate, and FAO’s recently launched Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform, which contains a rich set of data to help strengthen evidence-based decision-making in the food and agriculture sectors. He also mentioned WaPOR, FAO’s portal to monitor Water Productivity through open-access of remotely sensed data, which assists countries in monitoring water productivity and finding solutions to reduce productivity gaps.

In her closing speech at the event, FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo reiterated that FAO stands ready to “continue to work closely with Members, the UN system, global partners, and non-state actors to build back better from COVID-19 through transforming agri-food systems, and contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to reach better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life.”

Through many projects and programmes across the world, FAO is committed to creating a more efficient, equitable and environmentally friendly use of water in agriculture and working towards the achievement of SDG 6.