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World Water Day: a celebration of water values

22 March 2021 was the 28th annual celebration of the UN World Water Day, which this year focused on water values

23 March 2021

With a theme of valuing water, this year’s celebration of World Water Day aligns with the Water Security Hub’s work in a particularly poignant manner.

As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, we are starkly reminded how water is vital to life. The pandemic once again highlights how inequitable access to clean water negatively impacts the health and wellbeing of the most marginalised communities.

Grounded in community-based, co-production approaches, the Hub’s Values Workstream explores the multiple and competing values of water, beyond economic worth. Narrow analysis based upon economic supply‐demand does not capture the full value of water and the connections to issues of equity, justice, and human rights. Our Values Workstream foregrounds those marginalised from decision-making to develop expressions of water values that can inform more equitable water management and governance.

SDG 6 is centred around ensuring water and sanitation for all, and “without a comprehensive understand of water’s true, multidimensional value, we will be unable to safeguard this critical resource for the benefit of everyone” (UN Water).

How do you measure a river, when she is also a goddess?

If we are to manage water in more equitable and sustainable ways then not only must we account for all the values that water has, but we must understand and work with the complexity and diversity of those values.

There are over one hundred members in our team, based in five different countries, speaking many different languages – each of which has multiple words for water. To demonstrate the nuances of water values across cultures and locations, we asked our colleagues to share what water means to them in their mother tongue.

We had a phenomenal response with answers in Amharic, Gujarati, Mandarin, Indonesian, Spanish, Hindi, Sanskrit, Galician, Bengali, and Malay, to name just a few. The responses reveal that water is truly a global language, a fundamental element that links us all.

Rachael, Colombia: “Where there is water, there is life. Water represents the possibility of health, prosperity, expression, and equity for all beings.”

Ankush, India: (quoting Rigveda) ‘Apvantram amritamapsu’ - "There is nectar in water, there is medicine in water.” 

Anna, UK: “Being around water is invaluable for my mental and physical health. As a rower, being on the water offers a moment of serenity to forget about the stresses of day to day life.”

Cindy, Malaysia: “Water is the source of life. While giving vitality to all living things, it also contributes to a country's development and tranquillity.”

Jyoti, India: "Thousands have lived without love, not one without water."

Bitew, Ethiopia: “Water is vital to sustain life. It is a finite and fugitive resource.”

Xanthe, UK: “I value water because it calms me, but it also keeps me active, whether that is swimming or surfing, or just messing about in some waves.”

Community leader (Rosas Vivas Nature Reserve, Colombia): “We have water births in many parts of the reserve. And for us, it means life, more than enough”.

Amare, Ethiopia: "Water heals, and water cleans."

Helen, UK: “Living on a boat, water to me means ‘home’, and also means the freedom and mobility to explore new places around the UK.”

Andrés, Colombia: "Water is essence, fluidity and connectivity with the planet."

Che, Malaysia: “I need water for daily activities like drinking, bathing, and ablution for prayer. Without water, almost all activities cannot be carried out.”

Julián, Colombia: "Water is that being that connects us with the ecosystem and the other beings that make it up."

Vasudha, India: “There's nothing more essential or basic than water. It is the foundation of life, our most precious commodity and our most contested resource.”

Cat, UK: “I value water’s therapeutic properties. I do my best thinking whilst swimming or walking on the coast. Water is calming and reduces distractions."

Eliza, Malaysia: “Water is a gift from god. If there is no water, there will be no life in this world.”

Smit, India: "Water is a word which we listen to every day and without which life is not possible."

Adey, Ethiopia: “Water is power and energy. Water is soul cleansing and spirit uplifting. Water is a key driving force in nature, yet a limited and vulnerable resource. That's why we need to make saving water our lifestyle.”

Carolina, Colombia: “Water is a line in time that creates life and creates stories.”

Richard, UK: “For me, water is a conundrum. It is fundamental to life but is also incredibly powerful and destructive. Even gentle trickles over time will carve out huge river valleys, whilst lapping waves reshape our shores.”

Choong, Malaysia: "Water is everything, and everything is water."

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