To focus on the importance of freshwater, the United Nations marks March 22 every year as World Water Day. The theme of World Water Day 2021 is “Valuing Water”.
According to the UN, World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water.
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A core focus of World Water Day is to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.
As per the UN website, the idea for this international day goes back to 1992, the year in which the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro took place. That same year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution by which March 22 of each year was declared World Day for Water, to be observed starting in 1993.
Later on, other celebrations and events were added. For instance, the International Year of Cooperation in the Water Sphere 2013, and the current International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028.
These observances aim to highlight that water and sanitation measures are key to poverty reduction, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.
Explaining this year’s theme ‘Valuing Water’, UN-Water said on its website, “The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource.”
In India, the lack of access to clean water is an ongoing challenge that the country has been facing for several years.
In 2017, in a written reply in Lok Sabha, the Ministry of Water Resources (as it was before being merged into the Jal Shakti ministry in 2019) said that the average annual per capita water availability fell from 1820 cubic meters assessed in 2001 to 1545 cubic meters in 2011, and could reduce further to 1341 and 1140 in the years 2025 and 2050 respectively.
“Annual per-capita water availability of less than 1700 cubic meters is considered as water stressed condition, whereas annual per- capita water availability below 1,000 cubic meters is considered as a water scarcity condition. Due to high temporal and spatial variation of precipitation, the water availability of many regions of the country is much below the national average and can be considered as water stressed/water scarce,” the Ministry had said.
In a 2018 report, the water and sanitation advocacy group WaterAid ranked India at the top of 10 countries with the lowest access to clean water close to home, with 16.3 crore people not having such access.
Notably, the same report also took note of government efforts, saying, “(India) is also one of the world’s most-improved nations for reaching the most people with clean water, but faces challenges with falling groundwater levels, drought, demand from agriculture and industry, pollution and poor water resource management – challenges that will intensify as climate change contributes to more extreme weather shocks.”
The Ministry of Jal Shakti says on its website, “As most of the rivers in the country are inter-State, the regulation and development of waters of these rivers, is a source of inter-State differences and disputes. In the Constitution, water is a matter included in Entry 17 of List-II i.e. State List. This entry is subject to the provision of Entry 56 of List-I i.e. Union List.”
Under Article 246, the Indian Constitution allocates responsibilities of the States and the Centre into three lists– Union List, State List, and Concurrent List.
Water is under Entry 17 of the State List, which reads: “Water, that is to say, water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power subject to the provisions of entry 56 of List I.”