How organizations are coming together under the umbrella of change, and the significance of World Water Day for those living on the frontline of the crisis.

In 1993, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated March 22 as World Water Day. It just so happens that this year, World Water Day also coincides with the UN Water Conference (March 22-24, New York) – described by the UN as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unite the world around solving the water and sanitation crisis’. 

And a crisis it certainly is. As reported by global media over the past 24 hours, the UN has issued a report warning of a looming global water crisis and an ‘imminent risk’ of shortages due to overconsumption and climate change. 

Water scarcity is a pressing issue affecting millions of people across the globe. As the world’s population continues to grow, the demand for freshwater resources has significantly increased. However, due to climate change, poor water management, and pollution, many regions are experiencing water scarcity, where the demand for water exceeds the available supply. 

But wait, why is a sailing team talking to me about water scarcity? 

Because as the world recognizes World Water Day this week, we’d like to take the opportunity to highlight the incredible work of Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) in South Africa and Water Footprint Implementation (WFI) in The Netherlands. Both EMG and WFI are part of 11th Hour Racing Team’s legacy grantee program, designed to support organizations working on local solutions to the global problem of climate change. 

In a unique opportunity, they have joined forces to tackle the very topic the world finds itself talking about this week. 

Whilst EMG are on the ground in South Africa, on the frontline of the serious consequences of water scarcity, WFI are in New York at the UN Water Conference presenting the concept of Water Footprint Compensation (you’ve heard of Carbon Footprint Compensation, right?) and raising awareness around how our production and consumption choices are affecting natural resources.

As the world’s commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) – the promise that everyone would have safely managed water and sanitation by 2030 – is described as ‘seriously off track’, we thought we’d take some time to share the reality of the situation through the eyes and ears of those on the frontline, and how with compassion, vision and determination, solutions are possible.

The work of the future

The ambition of WFI is to develop a framework to measure the impact of water consumption, and this in itself as a sentence might be a bit overwhelming, but bear with us because not only is this the work of the future, it’s scalable in a way that could provide infinite results. 

Speaking at the WFI workshop at the UN Water Conference today, Meredith Carroll – Sponsorship Manager for 11th Hour Racing Team – explains how the partnership with WFI came to be: 

“Ioana and Jaap approached us in 2022 with the seeds of a concept they needed support for, and asked whether this was something we could invest in as part of our legacy grantee program for The Hague. 

“Their vision for the Water Compensation Framework caught our attention – how they planned to establish a science-based criteria for those wishing to compensate for their water footprint, and for organizations to have the ability to define what a compensation activity is according to an established methodology, and allow ownership for self-assessment.” 

In the first instance, it is vitally important that reductions are made by the organization seeking to offset its water footprint, both within its own activities and within its value chain to ultimately reduce its footprint as much as possible. Once this is done, and as a final resort, compensation should be considered, first within the watershed of where their draw on the resource has taken place, and then finally wider to projects they can support.

A match made in heaven

Meredith continues, “The WFI Compensation Framework has the ability to facilitate match-making between problems and project owners, and the compensators. And this is where we got really excited.

“WFI is working on a pilot project with EMG to become a project owner, and they have been assessing how the organization supports the community, the social, economic, and environmental impacts it has, and of course, how many liters of water will be positively affected.

“To see two of our partner organizations come together, continents apart, to find local solutions for the global impact of climate change has been great, and has the power to make very real and tangible change.”

Life on the frontline

Mandy Moussouris, Director of EMG, previously emphasised the importance of a collective approach to issues plaguing modern-day society.

When asked to describe life on the frontline of the water crisis, she paints an uncomfortable picture of everyday reality. 

 “Essentially the poorer you are, the harder it is to access water. In Cape Town for example, when we were about to hit Day Zero, the city started charging significant amounts for access to water. But we must ask ourselves, what qualifies someone to be more or less in need of a natural resource such as water? Well, in this instance the answer was money.

“In terms of the reality on the ground, for people who can’t imagine, a large number of people don’t have running water in their homes. Imagine doing daily activities without water, try it for a day and you will soon find it’s impossible. Then imagine that being your everyday reality. 

“The South African government reports that 90% of people here have access to clean water but the reality is that only 35% have water directly in their homes. The rest have to collect it from somewhere, such as a communal tap. Then there’s 10% who have no access.

“World Water Day is critical to highlight the spectrum of issues around water and the issues related to water. It creates an important space for these conversations to happen, just like the ones Water Footprint Implementation are participating in as we speak.”

With talk of so many solutions, what would an ideal world look like? 

“Water should never be a commodity, it is a necessity of life. It is a human right, and something that without access to, people will die,” continues Mandy. “This isn’t something anyone can own. It comes from the sky, it’s not something that can be owned by anybody. How we treat the environment dictates where it comes and how often it comes. Therefore we are all responsible for what we do and how we impact each other’s access to water.”

“In an ideal world the monetization of natural resources such as water wouldn’t exist. This is why EMG is an environmental justice organization and not a conservation organization. Because the way our economy and society is organized has a direct impact on our relationship with nature. So the monetization of water has an implication on how we relate to it and an implication of equality – or lack thereof – in society. In an ideal world, everyone would have access to water. There would be equity.”

Turning back the clock

It’s unlikely that anyone reading this is unaware of the challenges we face for the health of our planet, but we all need to be continually reminded – we are at the 11th Hour – our eponymous team name. And to quote Meredith today in New York:

“It is thanks to people like Ioana, Jaap, and the wider Water Footprint Implementation team, that we have a chance, together, to turn back the clock.”