March sure was a busy month for all those working on water issues. Between the World Water Forum and the World Water Day, for the first time ever, youth representatives from all over the world met in Marseilles, France to develop a World Youth Declaration for Water. The declaration seeks to focus the views of the youth, in the long term, to meet the challenges associated with water throughout the world. The representatives were divided by water-basins in order to tackle regional challenges and provide solutions accordingly.
As youth, we pledged our commitments to solve the challenges that are threatening the livelihoods of millions of people around the world and made an emphasis on water access, water governance and the efficient use of water. We also concurred with the water-related concerns raised in international accords such as the Dublin Principles, which specifically call for the implementation of water efficiency strategies and universal water access.
We have recognized the great challenge of North America when referring to its high use of water. The average person in the United States has a water footprint of 2842 m3 per year, the largest in the world. Furthermore, as buyers and consumers, they also affect the water balances by buying clothes made of cotton from places as far as Malaysia and India, utilizing water from countries that may have a scarce supply as a result.
When I attended the Forum in Marseilles, I had the opportunity to participate in discussions related to water efficiency. During these discussions, experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Water Footprint, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called for the implementation of measurements such as water footprints and water efficiency standards. Therefore, as part of our regional compromises for the North American region, we would seek to develop strategies to increase awareness about water footprints and the efficient use of water between young people and policy makers.
In other regions such as Central Africa, water access still represents a barrier to human development. Only 30 percent of Central Africans have access to clean water and even fewer to sanitation. Consequently, the youth representatives of the region have committed to work with different actors to build their capacity concerning access to water and the impact they can have in the decision-making process.
At the end of the Forum, the Youth Declaration for Water was recognized as one of the official outcomes of the event. Additionally, the Water Youth Parliament and the World Water Youth Movement were recognized as the main voices for youth and water.
Second step: World Water Day
After the Forum, the next stop for water experts was the World Water Day celebrated on March 22, 2012 with the purpose of calling attention to the existing relation between water and food. According to the United Nations, over 400 events were organized worldwide to celebrate the World Water Day.
In Pakistan, youth representatives organized a fair to share information on water pollution. In Nicaragua, the group Jovenes Ambientalistas called attention to the impacts of water pollution in the rural and urban population. Additionally, in Ecuador, a march to call attention to the human right for water was organized.
Other youth representatives sought to use this day to go to their local media and communicate the accomplishments of the Forum and the Water Youth Parliament as a way to increase awareness in their respective countries.
Next steps: What can you do?
Even though the official month for water is over, the task of raising awareness about water issues is just beginning. We need more concrete policies and actions in both national and international levels.
As youth, I am interested in learning more about the importance of incorporating water use measurements within our policies. How can we introduce initiatives for the better use of water through our different economic sectors? How can we incorporate water into international and regional agreements? These are some of the questions that capture my attention. Hopefully, worldwide youth networks can help shed light into some of these issues.
You, in your country, can also help find solutions to these issues. What issue related to water interests you? What can you do to help find solutions? We all share the responsibility of easing the task to solve the severe water challenges that we face.
This post was written by Olimar Maisonet-Guzman is a 2011 Boren Fellow to Brazil and a member of the SustainUS Youth Delegation that will participate in the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Find out why she thinks the Amazon is the most important rainforest in the world and why youth are incredibly important to the environmental movement.