Valuing water:  An elusive ‘blue gold’ to billions  

Published March 31, 2021, 12:09 AM

by Manila Bulletin

World Water Day, observed on March 22 of each year, seeks to create heightened awareness of the global water crisis.  Some 2.2 billion people live without access to safe water resources.  It calls attention to the attainment of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6): water and sanitation for all by 2030.

In the Philippines, it passed almost unnoticed, as widespread concern over a new surge in COVID-19 infections brought on the imposition of additional quarantine restrictions more than a year after the pandemic outbreak.

On World Water Day in March 2017, San Miguel Corporation (SMC) announced its goal to reduce operational water use by 50 percent across its businesses, through measures such as water recycling, conservation, and rainwater harvesting, and to meet this target by 2025.

Valuing Water is the theme for this year’s observance.  The inability to recognize and appreciate the full measure of the value of water is pinpointed as the main cause of water waste and misuse.

UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay declares: “Water is our most precious resource, a ‘blue gold’ to which more than two 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.”

While “price” and “cost” are readily quantifiable, “value” includes social and cultural dimensions, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2021, as it asks: “How do we quantify the meaning of the 443 million schooldays missed annually due to water-related diseases?”

Five perspectives for valuing water provide helpful guides.

First, valuing water sources and ecosystems: all water that is extracted for human use eventually returns to the environment, including contaminants. Protecting the environment enables the provision of good quality water supply and builds resilience against floods and drought.

Second, valuing water infrastructure for storage, treatment and supply that “moves water to where it is most needed, and helps clean and return it to nature after human use.”

Third, valuing water services: drinking water, sanitation and health services in households, schools, workplaces and health care facilities is critical; water, sanitation and hygiene services also adds value in the form of greater health, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fourth, valuing water as an input to production and socio-economic activity: food and agriculture, energy and industry, business and employment.  Water scarcity, flooding and climate change can push up costs and disrupt supply chains.

Fifth: Valuing socio-cultural aspects of water, including its recreational, cultural and spiritual attributes.  Water is an intrinsic part of every culture but the values we attribute to these functions are difficult to quantify or articulate.

Joining other world leaders in the advocacy of valuing water, Pope Francis emphasizes the primacy of its sensible use: “Those who enjoy a surplus of water yet choose to conserve it for the sake of the greater human family have attained a moral stature that allows them to look beyond themselves.”