“Water is our most precious resource, a ‘blue gold’ to which more than 2 billion people do not have direct access. It is not only essential for survival, but also plays a sanitary, social and cultural role at the heart of human societies,” said UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay, launching the UN’s annual World Water Development Report (WWDR) on World Water Day 2021.
Entitled “Valuing Water” this year’s report emphasises the need to broaden the notion of the value of water beyond monetary concepts of price and cost. It examines the value of water under five headings: supply and sanitation services, the economy, the environment, cultural values and the so-called hydraulic infrastructure.
“Many of our problems arise because we do not value water highly enough; all too often water is not valued at all,” said chair of UN-Water Gilbert Houngbo, adding: “The time has come for stakeholders to identify, articulate and share perspectives of the values of water.”
The 206-page report recognises widely varying approaches to valuing water across, and even within, different contexts as well as the often intangible nature of some sociocultural values that defy quantification, concluding “Consolidating the different approaches and methods for valuing water across multiple dimensions and perspectives will likely remain challenging.”
Nevertheless, it stresses that valuing water “remains an absolutely necessary step in addressing water-related challenges worldwide. Otherwise, water will remain poorly accounted for and, thus, routes to its better management harder to identify”.
For instance, UNESCO estimates it would cost $114 billion per year to provide universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation in 140 low- and middle-income countries, but points out “the multiple social and economic benefits of safe water are difficult to evaluate”, asking: “How do we quantify the meaning of the 443 million schooldays missed annually due to water-related diseases?”
“We must all recognize the multifold value of water and take action to conserve this basic resource, the resource which gives our planet its unique colour,” said director-general Azoulay.
This echoes the final summation of WWDR, which points to the universality of water and its incalculable and limitless value, stating: “This is perhaps best illustrated by the widespread enthusiasm for the idea that traces of water can be found on Mars, or the fact that we think of water and life as interchangeable when studying other planets.”
The WWDR is published by UNESCO on behalf of UN-Water. It is the UN’s flagship publication on water and sanitation issues and focuses on a different theme every year.