Today is World Water Day and a time to reflect on the gift of water that sustains all life on Earth. While many have access to clean safe drinking water, millions do not. We must come together this World Water Day to commit to a new relationship with water. We must conserve it, restore watersheds, protect source water from pollution — pollution must be viewed as a criminal act — and share it more equitably for all humans, the future and for other species as well.

Modern humans see water as a great big resource for our pleasure, convenience and profit and not as the essential element of a living ecosystem that gives us all life. So we pollute it. We dump an amount of industrial and human waste into the watersheds every year equivalent to the combined weight of all humanity. We pump water from watersheds and rivers into mega cities where, if they are anywhere near the ocean, it is then dumped as waste — a major cause of rising oceans. We grow crops with flood irrigation in deserts. We poison water with mining, nuclear, fracking and tar sands production. We let water drain away from ancient rusting pipes because we have “run out of money” for public infrastructure.

The United Nations has recognized water and sanitation as a human right, which means that every government must now come up with a plan of action based on the “Obligation to Protect, Respect, and Fulfill” this right. We expect no less from the Harper government. The United Nations must also turn its attention to water conservation and watershed restoration, and to finding ways to make water a means of peace, not conflict.

We must also declare water to be a common heritage, a public trust and a public service, and we need to support the government of Bolivia in its new move to declare that water must be protected as a public right and not allowed to be delivered on a for-profit basis by the private sector. We need water for life. Water can teach us how to live in harmony with one another and more lightly on this Earth if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch. She is also an executive member of the San Francisco–based...