World Water Day 2021: How can we manage better what we value most?

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The theme of World Water Day 2021 (March 22) is “Valuing Water”—recognizing that unless resources are valued, they won’t be used sustainably. But what do we really mean when we talk about water’s value?

Water has not one, but many values. Life could not exist without it, and it has profound spiritual, religious, and cultural associations. Water also has important and increasingly recognized environmental and intrinsic values. We all depend on the ecosystem functions water resources provide: Wetlands act as natural filters for contaminants; communities around the world rely on the earth’s multitude of aquatic habitats and their diverse species for a healthy environment, food, and livelihoods. At the same time, efforts to quantify the benefits of water often focus on its economic value in agriculture, mining, industry, and service sectors; policy attention falls on those and on the role of water in economic growth, food security and resilience.

However, despite the high value placed on water resources, they are seldom managed sustainably, as reflected in growing water pollution, groundwater depletion, expanding scarcity and degradation around the world.

Photo credit: Tom van Cakenberghe/IWMI

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