The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. The United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March of each year as the World Day for Water by adopting a resolution. The world day for water is being observed since 1993, in conformity with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development contained in chapter 18 (Fresh Water Resources) of Agenda 21, which calls on States to devote the Day to implement the UN recommendations and set up concrete activities as deemed appropriate in their national context.
International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. The Theme of World Water Day 1994 was ‘Caring for Our Water Resources is Everyone’s Business’.
In 1995, the World Day for Water was celebrated in Lesotho with the international theme ‘Women and Water’. Two main activities on that day were water pollution and environmental degradation. In 1996, the theme was ‘Water for Thirsty Cities’. It emphasized the growing water crisis faced by cities across the world which threatens the sustainability of their social and economic development. The message for the day in 1997 was: Water is a basic requirement for all life, yet water resources are facing more and more demands from, and competition among, users.
UNICEF and the United Nations Division of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), took the lead in organizing the observance of World Water Day in 1998, as per the recommendations of the 17th meeting of the ACC Sub-Committee on Water Resources. The same year, excessive flooding of major rivers in the world resulted in thousands of deaths and caused enormous damage in China, Bangladesh, and India, where nearly half of the world population lives. They were not only the result of excessive rains, but also of interference by mankind in the river basins. These tragedies made the world realize that virtually everybody in this world lives downstream.
UNEP was the coordinating UN agency for the 1999 theme ‘Everyone Lives Downstream’. The Second World Water Forum and Ministerial Conference were held in the Netherlands in the week prior to 22 March 2000. Hundreds of water specialists, politicians, leading experts and top officials from all across the globe convened in The Hague. The event marked the conclusion to a long series of sessions during which thousands of concerned citizens addressed the water crisis that threatens all.
The World Health Organization was the coordinating un agency for 2001 theme ‘Water for Health: Taking Charge’. The message for the day was that concrete efforts were necessary to provide clean drinking water and improve health as well as to increase awareness world-wide of the problems and of the solutions. Water for Development was the theme for 2002. The International Atomic Energy Agency was the coordinating UN agency. The message was that the poor and deteriorating state of water resources in many parts of the world demand integrated water resources planning and management.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was the lead UN agency for World Water Day 2003. The theme ‘Water for the Future’ called on everyone to maintain and improve the quality and quantity of fresh water available to future generations. The goal was to inspire political and community action and encourage greater global understanding of the need for more responsible water use and conservation. The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the World Meteorological Organization were charged with coordinating events for World Water Day 2004. The theme was ‘Water and Disasters’.
The Theme of World Water Day 2005 was: Water for Life 2005 -2015. This was in accordance with the proclamation of the years 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action by the UN General Assembly at its 58th session in December 2003. The Water for Life decade set the world’s goals on “a greater focus on water-related issues, while striving to ensure the participation of women in water-related development efforts and further cooperation at all levels to achieve water-related goals of the Millennium Declaration, Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of the World Summit for Sustainable Development and Agenda 21”.
The theme of World Water Day 2006 was Water and Culture under the leadership of UNESCO. The theme 2006 drew the attention to the fact that there are as many ways of viewing, using, and celebrating water as there are cultural traditions across the world. The growing problem of Water Scarcity was the topic for World Water Day 2007. The theme highlighted the increasing significance of water scarcity worldwide and the need for increased integration and cooperation to ensure sustainable, efficient and equitable management of scarce water resources, both at international and local levels.
In 2008, World Water Day coincided with the International Year of Sanitation, which spurred action on a crisis affecting more than one out of three people on the planet. In 2009, the theme was “Shared Water – Shared Opportunities” with special focus on trans boundary waters. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lead the activities of the day with the support of United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It was stressed that nurturing the opportunities for cooperation in trans boundary water management can help build mutual respect, understanding and trust among countries and promote peace, security and sustainable economic growth.
The World Water Day 2010 had ‘Communicating Water Quality Challenges and Opportunities’ as its theme. The campaign was envisaged to raise awareness about sustaining healthy ecosystems and human well- being through addressing the increasing water quality challenges in water management and to raise the profile of water quality by encouraging governments, organizations, communities, and individuals around the world to actively engage in proactively addressing water quality e.g. in pollution prevention, clean up and restoration.