Water is critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it is a connector between health, food and the environment.
Four billion people, or 66% of the world’s population, lives without sufficient access to fresh water for at least one month each year.
A global leadership vacuum on water exists, and Canada could and should fill it.
Canadians value water more than any other of our natural resources, including oil and gas. A January 2017 survey on attitudes about water by the Royal Bank, for example, found that 45% of respondents viewed fresh water as Canada’s most important resource. Only 25% of respondents rated petroleum as the most important resource. But you would never know this prioritization by our public policy priorities. While Canadians are consumed by debates about pipelines, Lake Winnipeg is dying, boil advisories continue to plague remote communities, and we have not even mapped our groundwater aquifers, all while we continue to allow companies like Nestle to withdraw vast amounts of fresh water for only a pittance. On sensible water policies and priorities, Canadians are sleepwalking into the 21st century.
We are not alone in ignoring the centrality of water: four billion people, or 66% of the world’s population, lives without sufficient access to fresh water for at least one month each year, according to the journal ‘Science Advances.’ This situation arises because both India and China are suffering severe water shortages. For that reason, the World Economic Forum has placed water risk in the top three global problems, along with climate change and terrorism. But water rarely makes it onto the agenda of the G20, and leaders like Donald Trump are making their own water problems worse rather than helping the world to cope with growing crises.
A global leadership vacuum on water exists, and Canada could and should fill it. Domestically, a Minister for Water should be appointed to the Cabinet to galvanize action, as Catherine McKenna has done on climate change. In international development policy, Canada should make water risk its central organizational focus, because water is critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it is a connector between health, food and the environment.
There is another international dimension to water that the world is starting to realize: in 2012 in Canada, the InterAction Council of former world leaders, led by Jean Chretien, declared that water scarcity was a threat to peace and recommended that the UN Security Council take up the issue. In November 2016, for the first time, the Security Council did indeed debate the topic of ‘Water, Peace and Security.’ If Canada hopes to win election to the Security Council, what better platform than leading the world to realize that water is connected to peace?
Canada’s 150th anniversary is a time to celebrate the past, but more importantly, it is a time to look forward to new goals and priorities. Jahmai Moskotaywenene, an elementary student in St. Pius school in Thunder Bay, did this recently in a letter written to the prime minister: “Dear Mr. Trudeau, my class and I want to make Canada’s people equal. We also want to make everybody’s amount of water equal. Everybody should have the same amount of water to drink, bathe and wash their hands without getting rashes.” Amen to that for Canada and the world!
This article originally appeared in Water Canada