World Water Day – A WaterWonk’s World

Happy World Water Day!

Since 1993, the world has celebrated 22 March as World Water Day. From the UN – Water website []:

World Water Day is an international observance and an opportunity to learn more about water related issues, be inspired to tell others and take action to make a difference. World Water Day dates back to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development where an international observance for water was recommended. The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. It has been held annually since then. Each year, UN-Water — the entity that coordinates the UN’s work on water and sanitation — sets a theme for World Water Day corresponding to a current or future challenge. The engagement campaign is coordinated by one or several of the UN-Water Members with a related mandate. [Note: this year’s theme is Water and Jobs.]

I must confess that I am not a big fan of special days. Would you believe there is a Lost Sock Memorial Day [9 May]? Flip-Flop (as in footwear, not politicians) Day [17 June]? And yes, there’s even a Pluto Demoted Day [24 August]. These are frivolous celebrations to be sure (although the frivolity of the last one might be argued), but there are days memorializing serious issues, e.g., National Organ Donor Day [14 February]. My sense is that when a particular celebratory or awareness day – even a serious one – is over, it slides back into oblivion for 364 days. I don’t want water to suffer that fate.

So is World Water Day just another day among hundreds or even thousands? No big deal, right? Water’s always there – it’s nothing special, so why celebrate it?

Actually water is quite special. When it comes to virtually all its uses there is not a substitute. Run out of oil? Use gas. Run out of gas? Burn coal. Run out of water? Hmmm…

Some might say, “Yeah, you’re right, but in the developed world there are no problems. We have plenty of clean water.” Let me rock your world. Think Flint, Michigan, where lead contamination of the tap water has plagued the populace and charted an uncertain future for many children: the effects of lead contamination are irreversible. How about the chlorine-resistant parasite Cryptosporidium parvum that contaminated Milwaukee’s drinking water supply in 1993? About 400,000 people – about 25% of the greater Milwaukee area – were sickened. Sixty-nine people died. The irony was that Milwaukee was generally considered to have an excellent water system. Yet it is now known for being the site of the largest documented waterborne disease outbreak in U.S. history [see]. Has Milwaukee’s water system come back? Yes, but it took time. Would I drink Milwaukee’s tap water now? Sure would!

There are other water problems we face today – it’s not all about polluted drinking water. The USA’s aging water infrastructure is a hot topic. The overpumping of some of the world’s aquifers is generating concern.

Drought is perhaps the most publicized issue. California and much of the American Southwest are drought-ridden. Around the world parts of Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean island nations, South Africa, and North Korea are just a few of the places enduring droughts.

All bad news, right? Not so fast, my friend.

There is another aspect of water that is dear to my heart and deserves exposure. It’s what I call hydrophilanthropy, a form of philanthropy that focuses on the water, sanitation and related needs of people. Here is one definition:

Hydrophilanthropy is defined as the altruistic concern for the water, sanitation, and related needs of humankind, as manifested by donations of labor, money, or resources. [see]

Many organizations and individuals are involved with this endeavor. A few of the well-known ones are: Water for People, Engineers Without Borders, Rotary International, World Vision; Catholic Charities; U.S. Agency for International Development; Oxfam; WaterAid; Save the Children; Agua Para La Vida; El Porvenir; Lifewater; Living Water; and individual churches. What’s impressed me is the number of students who want careers with hydrophilanthropies. They want to devote much of their lives to helping others help themselves.

I’m glad World Water Day will be around for a while. But do celebrate this precious liquid every day, and try to imagine a No Water Day.

I’ll close with one of my favorite water aphorisms:

“In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong, there is nothing that can surpass it.” — Lao-tze, 6th century BCE

2014_0321_worldwaterday_mapMichael E. Campana is Professor of Hydrogeology and Water Resources Management at Oregon State University [the ‘other OSU’] in Corvallis, OR, and Technical Director of the American Water Resources Association. He is an unrepentant 24/7 WaterWonk. He blogs at http:/// and Tweets at His email is 

Here is a link [] to a presentation he made in Dr. Audrey Sawyer’s Exploring Water Issues class on 16 February 2016. Her students were thoroughly engaged. If you want to read more about hydrophilanthropy, visit this category on his WaterWired blog: and the January 2016 issue of Water Resources IMPACT []


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