World Water Day 2011: Water for cities

Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. This year UN-Water is dedicating World Water Day in 2011 to the theme of ‘Water and Urbanisation’, reflecting the importance of water in ever-growing urban populations around the world. Events around the world will spotlight the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters on urban water systems.


Thousands die each day because of water-related diseases, and many countries are not expected to meet the Millenium Development Goals on water. The UN General Assembly has declared that access to safe water is a human right. A human right that must be ensured through participative governance and not only through technology and engineering. The tripartite approach and the ILO’s expertise in pursuing decent work bring value to the international community’s effort.

International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March since 1993 as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. UN-Water strengthens coordination and coherence among UN entities dealing with issues related to all aspects of freshwater and sanitation. UN-Water is composed of representatives of 26 United Nations organizations. The ILO became a member of UN-Water in February 2010.

World Water Day 2011 : Responding to Urban Challenges

The World Water Day in 2011 is intended to focus international attention on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and climate change on water resources and environmental protection capabilities of cities and small towns.

Main Challenges

  • Half of humanity now lives in cities and every second the urban population grows by 2 people. In Africa and Asia, the urban population will double between 2000 and 2030.
  • 141 million urban dwellers do not have access to safe drinking- water.
  • One out of four city residents, 794 million in total, lives without access to improved sanitation facilities.
  • The situation in these urban areas leads to water related diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and cholera epidemics.
  • Progress in access to water and sanitation in the last decades is undermined by the rapid urban population growth.

The objective of WWD 2011 is to draw international attention on the challenges and opportunities
of urban water and sanitation management. It seeks both to alert the world to the adverse global
situation in urban water management, and to encourage decision-makers to seize opportunities
to address these formidable challenges. Through showcasing success, it seeks to encourage
decision-makers to initiate and sustain reforms and forward-looking approaches.

From 20-22 March 2011, UN-Water, UN-HABITAT, UNSGAB, and AMCOW will hold a worldwide event hosted in Cape Town, South Africa, focusing on urban water management: http://www.worldwaterday2011.org/

Key issues such as the growing urban water and sanitation demand, increased pollution from municipal and industrial discharges, climate change and its unforeseen risks and challenges, overexploitation of available water resources, better targeting of the urban poor will be discussed. The critical role played by local governments and other service providers in tackling these challenges will be explored. During the event the ILO will underscore the contribution of the world of work to long-term solutions.

ILO Contribution: The social dimension of water supply

Safe access to water would avoid more than two million preventable deaths a year, increase many persons’ ability to work, and reduce child labour and school absenteeism.  Water supply reforms that take into account the social dimensions of the problem tend to gather broad support from workers, employers and citizens. Since employers and workers are actively engaged in water supply, the ILO is working to address these issues through worker and employer participation in water utility reforms, employment creation in water infrastructure, fighting child labour through improved water access, and climate adaptation.

The ILO is working with governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations to identify priorities for investment infrastructure in order to create employment opportunities and bring water to communities. The ILO also is helping governments, workers and employers promote sustainable and participative water supply reforms in Nigeria, Malawi, Peru and the Philippines to increase access to water. Besides, the ILO participates in international sustainable development (Rio+20 and UNFCCC discussions) efforts to ensure that the employment and social dimensions are taken into account (GREEN JOBS). In particular, the ILO promotes a “Just Transition” of vulnerable workers and households to a world of work transformed by climate change and other environmental challenges and policies to address them.