Sunday, March 22, 2020 was World Water Day and the theme for this year’s celebration was “Water and Climate Change.” The theme explored the inextricable linkage between water and climate change and underscored the fact that water is the primary medium through which humans will feel the effects of climate change the most.
This year’s World Water Day marks 27 years of celebrating the Day, instituted in 1992 by the UN, to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme highlighted the fact that if we are to achieve climate and development goals, water must be at the core of climate-related actions.
The Day’s observation this year was without the usual tours or durbars because of the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic. Due its nature of spreading from person to person at close proximity, global and national measures being taken to slow down the spread include cancelation or postponement of meetings and conferences. People are being urged to avoid gatherings.
In Ghana, the Day was celebrated low key with activities restricted to television and radio discussions. The Planning Committee for the national celebration of World Water Day issued a press statement to commemorate the Day. The statement reminded all Ghanaians that the way water is managed will be a critical component for the success of any efforts to adapt to climate change impacts.
It called for country-driven climate change adaptation and mitigation actions that reflect the importance of water management in reducing vulnerability and building climate resilience. The statement also noted the actions of various governmental and non-governmental institutions that are contributing towards mitigating or adapting to climate change impacts.
It commended lead institutions including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Forestry Commission (FC) as well as the various NGOs and civil society organisations whose activities are ensuring that the quantity and quality of our freshwater resources are not compromised.
The theme for this year’s World Water Day further served to reinforce the fact that higher temperatures and more extreme, less predictable, weather conditions are climate related. These affect availability and distribution of rainfall, river flows and groundwater, and eventually deteriorate water quality and quantity.
Climate change is mainly caused by emission of greenhouse gases, which causes a ‘blanket’ in the atmosphere trapping the sun’s energy within the earth leading to high temperatures. Greenhouses gases are released mainly through industrial activities and deforestation among other drivers.
Scientists have established that this global phenomenon exhibits itself largely through changes in the water cycle. As the climate changes, droughts, floods, melting glaciers, sea-level rise and storms intensify or alter, often with severe consequences.
Consequently, water availability is becoming less predictable in many places, while, increased incidences of flooding threaten to destroy water points, sanitation facilities and contaminate water sources. In some parts of the world, droughts are intensifying water scarcity and thereby negatively impacting people’s health and productivity.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), increasing temperatures on the earth and more irregular rainfalls are expected to reduce crop yields in many tropical developing regions, where food security is already a problem. While, the UN has noted that more than two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress. It predicts that the situation will likely worsen as populations and the demand for water grow, and as the effects of climate change intensify.
The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has projected that with the existing climate change scenario, by 2030, which is just 10 years away, water scarcity in some dry and semi-dry regions will displace about 700 million people. In other words, water scarcity will lead to more climate related refugees and migration situations.
The projection by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO is even worse particularly for Sub-Saharan Africa. It says 60 years from now, by 2080, land unsuitable for agriculture in the region due to severe climate, soil or terrain constraints may increase by 30 to 60 million hectares.
UNICEF is of the view that climate change will have its most direct impact on child survival through the three direct channels of changing disease environments, greater food insecurity, and threats to water and sanitation. The organisation again predicts that in the next 20 years, one in four of the world’s children below 18 years totaling – some 600 million in all – will be living in areas of extremely high-water stress.
Now, all of these scenarios about how climate change will play out in extreme weather, sea level rise, wildfires and how they are affecting or will affect agricultural output, health, children, women, youth, communities and economies are all basically water related.
Therefore, ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable water is a critical climate change action that must be taken from now on. It is in recognition of the urgency in addressing climate change impacts on water and in line with Sustainable Development Goals 6 on water and sanitation, and 13 on climate change, that this year’s World Water Day was devoted to water and climate change.
The celebration served as a reminder that living with climate change will mean coping with the impacts on water, whether too much or too little, and taking the necessary steps to reduce the vulnerabilities of communities and economies. It established the fact that water plays a crucial role in how the world mitigates and adapts to the effects of climate change.
Furthermore, this year’s celebration is a wakeup call on governments and the international community to accelerate climate actions that will lead to the unprecedented transformation needed to limit climate change impacts. The expectations of many is that as nations including Ghana review their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), they will come up with practical and workable intended climate actions as well as strengthened resolve to implement them.
NDCs are the core of the Paris Climate Agreement and signify efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change after 2020. The Agreement was adopted in 2015 at the end of the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang