World Water Day

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World Water Day
World water day - choir singing (4459460043).jpg
A World Water Day celebration in Kenya in 2010
Observed byPeople and organizations worldwide, including all UN member states
Date22 March
First time22 March 1993
Related toWater, Sustainable development, Sustainability

World Water Day is an annual UN observance day (22 March) that highlights the importance of freshwater. The day is used to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.[1] The theme of each day focuses on topics relevant to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), which is in line with the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6.[2] The UN World Water Development Report (WWDR) is released each year around World Water Day.

UN-Water is the convener for World Water Day and selects the theme for each year in consultation with UN organizations that share an interest in that year's focus.[1] The theme for 2020 is "Water and Climate Change" and explores how the two issues are inextricably linked.[3] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 campaign also promoted messages of hand washing and hygiene and gave guidance on staying safe while supporting the campaign.

The 2019 theme was "Leaving no one behind".[4] Previous themes for the years 2014 to 2018 were "Water and energy"[5], "Water and Sustainable Development"[6], "Water and Jobs'"[7], "Why waste water?"[8] and "Nature for Water"[9].

World Water Day is celebrated around the world with a variety of events. These can be theatrical, musical or lobbying in nature. The day can also include campaigns to raise money for water projects. The first World Water Day, designated by the United Nations, was in 1993.[1]

Objectives and structure[edit]

Children presenting a puppet show for the "My School Toilet" contest in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, for World Water Day in 2010.

World Water Day is an international observance day. The intention is to inspire people around the world to learn more about water-related issues and to take action to make a difference.[1] In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an additional focus on hand washing and hygiene.

Relevant issues include water scarcity, water pollution, inadequate water supply, lack of sanitation, and the impacts of climate change (which is the theme of World Water Day 2020[10]). The day brings to light the inequality of access to WASH services and the need to assure the human right to water and sanitation.

The World Water Day website announces events, activities and volunteer opportunities. In 2020, featured stories are about adapting to the water effects climate change and using water more efficiently.[11]


UN-Water coordinates activities with UN member organisations who share an interest in that year's theme. UN-Water mobilizes organizations of all kinds to action, whether globally or locally.

Examples of activities[edit]

Non-governmental organizations active in the WASH sector, such as UNICEF, WaterAid and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), use the day to raise public awareness, get media attention for water issues and inspire action.[12] Activities have included releasing publications and films, as well as organizing round tables, seminars and expositions.[3]

End Water Poverty, a global civil society coalition with 250 partner organizations, sponsors Water Action Month each year and offers an event-planning guidebook.[13]

The UN World Water Development Report (WWDR) is released each year on World Water Day. Information related to the annual theme gives decision-makers tools to implement sustainable use of water resources.[14]

More and more initiatives in schools and universities are educating people about the importance of conserving and managing water resources.[15][16][17] For example, Michigan State University held a contest for "best World Water Day poster" in 2017. Primary school children in the Philippines participated in a "My School Toilet" contest in 2010.[18]


This day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. In December 1992, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/47/193 by which 22 March of each year was declared World Day for Water.[1]

In 1993, the first World Water Day was observed.[1] An archive of previous World Water Day campaign websites also exists.[19]

Annual themes[edit]

2020 – Water and Climate Change[edit]

World Water Day 2020, on 22 March, is about water and climate change – and how the two are inextricably linked. UN-Water states that "adapting to the water effects of climate change will protect health and save lives". Also, using water more efficiently will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.[3] However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an additional focus on hand washing and hygiene.

2019 – Leaving No One Behind[edit]

The theme of 2019 was about tackling the water crisis by addressing the reasons why so many people are being left behind. Marginalized groups – women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people – are often overlooked, and may face discrimination, as they try to access safe water.[4][20] UN-Water asserts that "water services must meet the needs of marginalized groups and their voices must be heard in decision-making processes".[21]

2018 – Nature for Water[edit]

The theme in 2018 explored how nature can be used to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century.[9] This could be in the form of nature-based solutions to water-related challenges. For example, reducing floods, droughts, water pollution and protecting ecosystems could be solved using natural means, which nature uses, rather than man-made approaches. Restoring wetlands, implementing constructed wetlands, green roofs, green infrastructure, planting new forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, are some examples. Each of these use natural processes to rebalance the water cycle and improve human health and livelihoods.[22]

2017 – Why Waste Water?[edit]

In 2017, the theme was "Why Waste Water?" which was about reducing and reusing wastewater.[8] The theme was a play on words as it related to both the aspect of wasting water and issues around wastewater, namely treatment and reuse. Wastewater is a valuable resource to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal Number 6. One aspect of Target 6.3 is to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and also to increase the recycling and safe reuse of water across the globe. After appropriate treatment, wastewater can be used for a variety of purposes. Industry, for example, can reuse water in cooling towers and agriculture can reuse water for irrigation.[23]

An example activity for 2017 was the Wikipedia edit-a-thon organized by members of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance on 19–21 March 2017. The purpose of the activity was to improve water and sanitation related content on Wikipedia just ahead of World Water Day. The goal was to improve the quantity and quality of sanitation information available on Wikipedia for the use of teachers, journalists and the general public.[24]

2016 – Better Water, Better Jobs[edit]

The 2016 theme of "Better water, better jobs" highlighted the correlation between water and job creation, both directly and indirectly, by water sources around the globe.[7] The theme led to a collaboration with the International Labour Organization.[25] As water scarcity becomes more of a reality, industries heavily dependent on water like textiles and agriculture are at risk of increased costs, which threatens salaries and jobs. Increased costs may then be passed on to consumers.

The theme also highlights how an abundance of quality water can change people's jobs and lives for the better. The 2016 celebration created recognition for those working to improve water quality and availability, and the need for many to transition to other and better jobs.[7] Three out of four of jobs worldwide are water-dependent. Water shortages and lack of access may limit economic growth in the years to come, according to the 2016 United Nations World Water Development Report.[26]

2015 – Water and Sustainable Development[edit]

With the theme ‘Water and Sustainable Development’, the year 2015 provided an important opportunity to consolidate and build upon the previous World Water Days to highlight water's role in the sustainable development agenda.[6] The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were to have been achieved by 2015, so the year lent itself to discussions of the post-MDG period and aspirations for water and sustainable development. With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), World Water Day gave specific emphasis to SDG 6, which calls for water and sanitation for all, by encouraging discussion of how SDG 6 could be achieved by 2030.[1]

2014 – Water and Energy[edit]

The 2014 theme of Water and Energy emphasized the close linkages and interdependence of water and energy and brought attention to the water-energy nexus.[5] About 8% of the energy generated globally is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers. Furthermore, generating and transmitting energy requires the use of water resources, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources.

The aim of that year's theme was to facilitate the development of policies and crosscutting frameworks that would bridge ministries and sectors. It was meant to lead the way to energy security and sustainable water use in a green economy.[5]

Journalists from 11 countries in Asia met in Tokyo from 20–21 March 2014 to discuss the importance of water. The event included discussion panels on topics such as privatization of services, integration between water and energy and modernization of water services. The journalists also developed four joint stories and 20 individual story ideas for a network of Asian journalists writing on water (and energy) in social media.[27]

Prior to 2014[edit]

In the years prior to 2014, the annual themes were as follows:[10]

  • 2013: International Year of Cooperation. In December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation. In reflection of this declaration, the 2013 World Water Day was dedicated to water cooperation.* 1994: Caring for our Water Resources is Everybody's Business
  • 2012: Water and Food Security: The World is Thirsty Because We are Hungry. On the occasion of 2012 World Water Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called attention to the water-related challenges faced by civilians caught up in fighting and intense civil unrest.[28]* 1995: Women and Water
  • 2011: Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge. The aim was to spotlight and encourage governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to actively engage in addressing the challenges of urban water management.[29]* 1996: Water for Thirsty Cities
  • 2010: Clean Water for a Healthy World. Dedicated to water quality, reflecting its importance alongside quantity of the resource in water management.[30]* 1997: The World's Water: Is there enough?
  • 2009: Trans Waters. Special focus placed on trans-boundary waters.[31]* 1998: Groundwater– The Invisible Resource. The UN identified gaps in groundwater management which have enormous implications for sustainable development.
  • 2008: Sanitation. 2008 was also the International Year of Sanitation.[32]* 1999: Everyone Lives Downstream
  • 2007: Coping With Water Scarcity. Highlighted 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.[33]
  • 2006: Water and Culture. The theme 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.* 2000: Water for the 21st century
  • 2005: Water for Life Decade 2005–2015. The United Nations General Assembly at its 58th session in December 2003 agreed to proclaim the years 2005 to 2015 the International Decade for Action, beginning with World Water Day, 22 March 2005.[34] The phrase Water for Life Decade was also used.* 2001: Water for Health
  • 2004: Water and Disasters. Weather, climate and water resources can have a devastating impact on socio-economic development and on the well-being of humankind.
  • 2003: Water for Future. Maintain and improve the quality and quantity of fresh water available to future generations.* 2002: Water for Development. The poor and deteriorating state of water resources in many parts of the world demand integrated water resources planning and management.


Every year, World Water Day campaign messages and publications reach millions of people through social media, dedicated websites and other channels. In 2017, 700 individual events were held in 110 countries and there were over 500,000 authors on social media using the hashtag ‘#WorldWaterDay’.[35] In 2018, there was a 25% increase in both the number of website visits and the maximum potential reach on social media largely due to celebrity support and a coordinated communications approach across the United Nations.[36]

In 2016, the UN-Water annual report stated that social media engagement (hashtag #WorldWaterDay) had a maximum potential reach of 1.6 billion people worldwide in 2016.[37]:21 Over 500 events in 1000 countries were registered on the World Water Day website that year.[37]:21

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "UN-Water: World Water Day". UN-Water. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  2. ^ WHO and UNICEF (2017) Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and SDG Baselines. Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2017
  3. ^ a b c "World Water Day 2020". UN-Water.
  4. ^ a b "World Water Day Theme 2019". UN Water. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  5. ^ a b c "World Water Day 2014". UN-Water. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  6. ^ a b "World Water Day 2015". UN-Water. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  7. ^ a b c "World Water Day 2016". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  8. ^ a b "World Water Day theme (2017)". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  9. ^ a b "World Water Day Theme (2018)". UN Water. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  10. ^ a b "UN Water What We Do, Inspire Action (Official themes and previous campaigns)". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  11. ^ "World Water Day 'What is being done?' (2020)". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  12. ^ "Humanitarian agencies come together to promote water conservation on World Water Day in Jordan". 22 March 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  13. ^ "Water Action Month". End Water Poverty: Sanitation and Water for All. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  14. ^ "World Water Development Report". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Celebrate World Water Day with Games and Activities for all ages!". Kids World Citizen. 22 March 2012. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Hands-on Water Activities for Kids". Kids World Citizen. 22 March 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  17. ^ "World Water Day 2017 Primary Resources". Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  18. ^ Wendland, C; Rieck, C; Roenitzsch, S; van Epps, A. (2014). Making WASH in Schools more sustainable – Case Stories from SuSanA Partners. SuSanA.
  19. ^ "Archive of previous World Water Day websites". UN Water - Archive. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  20. ^ "United Nations World Water Development Report". Unesco. 11 February 2019. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  21. ^ "World Water Day 2019 Factsheet" (PDF). UN Water. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  22. ^ UN-Water (2018) World Water Development Report 2018: Nature-based Solutions for Water, Geneva, Switzerland
  23. ^ UN-Water (2017) World Water Development Report 2017, Geneva, Switzerland
  24. ^ "Wikipedia: a tool for Advocacy?". Oxfam Policy & Practice, Views & Voices, retrieved 20 March 2017
  25. ^ "Event to mark World Water Day 2016 and launch the World Water Development Report". International Labour Organisation. 22 March 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  26. ^ UN-Water (2016) World Water Development Report 2016: Water and jobs, Geneva, Switzerland
  27. ^ Water and Energy Report on the Journalists Workshop (PDF). UNW-DPAC. 2014.
  28. ^ "World Water Day 2012". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  29. ^ "World Water Day 2011". World Water Day. UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  30. ^ "World Water Day 2010". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  31. ^ "World Water Day 2009". World Water Day 2009. UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  32. ^ "World Water Day 2008". UN-Water. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  33. ^ "World Water Day 2007". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  34. ^ "UN Decade for Water 2005–2015". UN-Water. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  35. ^ "UN-Water Annual Report 2017". UN-Water.
  36. ^ "UN-Water Annual Report 2018". UN-Water.
  37. ^ a b Annual Report UN-Water. Geneva, Switzerland: UN-Water. 2016.

External links[edit]