Twelve million people die annually as a result of the lack of sanitary water, and millions more are struck by diseases associated with it. Last year, more people likely died from lack of water than from armed conflicts.

If those numbers don’t shake you, take a look at how much water one human uses in a 24-hour period. But first, a little bit of history:

In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 ‘World Water Day’ following its Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The purpose of World Water Day is to address the global need for clean and safe water and adequate sanitation. Today, the UN estimates over 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to safe water, and more than 2.4 billion suffer the effects of substandard sanitation.

The average person uses 100 gallons of water a day. It may not seem like much, but a five-minute shower will take 20 gallons. Want a hamburger? That will cost you a mere 1,300 gallons. Ordered a new car lately? It takes 100,000 gallons to make just one car. It takes 69 gallons to produce a pint of milk, 600 to produce an egg and 80 to make a Sunday newspaper, according to WWF International.

But researchers and activists around the planet will now be able to highlight other impacts of water scarcity on development and politics with this year’s World Water Day theme of ‘Coping with Water Scarcity’. The day highlights the importance of cooperation and of an integrated approach to managing resources of water, at both international and local levels.

A strong link between droughts and violent civil conflicts in the developing world bodes ill for an increasingly thirsty world, say top UN scientists, who warn that drought-related conflicts are expected to multiply with advancing climate change. The harmful effects of global warming on daily life, they say, are already showing up and they predict that hundreds of millions of people won’t have enough water within a couple of decades.

This warning, on the list of warnings already circulating, comes from a document drafted by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the same collective that warned us March 2 that the temperature is rising.

Tens of millions of others will be flooded out of the houses each year as the earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels, according to portions of the draft. Tropical diseases like malaria will spread, polar bears will soon be extinct and pests like fire ants and termites will flourish.

Equity and rights, cultural and ethical issues should be addressed when dealing with limited water resources. Imbalances between availability and demand, the degradation of groundwater and surface water quality – all centred around the question of how to cope with scarce water resources.

That’s the scientists’ version. Edited down to its basic – we may die of thirst, or complications from it.

Since 1992, very few people have heard of World Water Day but it has gained some attention since the March 2 warning about the effects of climate change. Last year 23 countries took part. Forty-six more have agreed to acknowledge the day.

Next Thursday is World Water Day. David Suzuki and Al Gore are speaking at the Palais des Congr


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