World Water Day: Climate Change and Health

On March 22nd each year, many celebrate World Water Day. The United Nations (UN) established this day in the hope to raise awareness about this precious asset.
World Water Day: Climate Change and Health

Last update: 23 May, 2021

The United Nations established the international World Water Day to raise awareness of the importance of water for life on this planet. It’s celebrated every March 22nd.

Since 1992 we have been celebrating this day. This was when Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Officials at the event outlined public world policies about the environment that are still relevant today.

Two important landmarks that continued the theme of World Water Day were established in 2013; the year 2013 itself was declared the International Year of Cooperation in the Water Sphere, and officials marked an upcoming decade (2018 – 2028) as the decade that proposed water as indispensable for sustainable development.

In 2020, World Water Day linked the liquid element to climate change. The transformations that human beings create are affecting the availability of water, and this is catastrophic for health.

Climate change as a health problem

The world population has grown exponentially. This growth comes paired with improper and irresponsible handling of resources, which has caused gigantic changes to the climate.

World Water Day is related to climate change because droughts and floods are a part of climate change. Water contamination affects the health of the populations that live in close proximity and use these sources for subsistence.

An important topic within climate change is the modification of the average global temperature. The planet has become warmer in the last hundred years. According to scientific investigation, it’s almost 1°C warmer than it was 130 years ago, and the last decade has been the warmest since 1850.

Human activity and the use of fuels that contaminate the atmosphere are to blame for the increase in global temperature. These fuels generate toxins that produce a greenhouse effect.

We have higher temperatures, less availability of water, and more droughts. Nature’s response to these issues is flooding, with torrential rain in cyclic episodes that overwhelm human structures.

Drought with a small bit of water at sunset.
Climate change affects the availability of water, and in turn, puts the lives of populations at risk.

Heatwaves in the context of climate change

We shouldn’t talk about droughts on World Water Day, but climate change obliges us to. And droughts are related to heatwaves that cause many people to become sick each year.

Europe suffers almost 70,000 deaths a year due to heatwaves. Usually, these are elderly people or those that have chronic illnesses due to irregularities in their kidney systems. Extreme dehydration is to blame for this.

There are also people that become dehydrated due to a lack of proper access to drinkable water. In countries with few resources, especially those that are more tropical, the increase in temperature without adequate water is a lethal combination.

The effect of increased heat on atmospheric gases is no less important. Some substances in the air increase in proportion when the temperature is higher, and this can be harmful. Cardiovascular illnesses, for example, worsen due to ozone air pollution.

A person holding up a glass of water.
Heatwaves can cause extreme dehydration and an increase in the risk to the population, especially to those in already high-risk groups such as the elderly or those with cardiovascular issues.

Water and infections

Water contamination and torrential rains that cause flooding favor infections and the transmission of harmful agents. This is also related to seasonal changes that make each season different.

On World Water Day, we need to remember that these infections continue to exist, even though non-transmissible chronic illnesses have captured our attention over recent years. Illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes like dengue or Zika, and parasites like schistosomiasis, take advantage of the water shortage problem.

Additionally, a lack of water is a key factor in transmission and contagion. In fact, in the current coronavirus outbreak, washing your hands with soap is a key measure to curb the pandemic. Many places on the planet don’t have access to running water in order to be able to carry out this basic prevention.

Our health on World Water Day

World Water Day is an opportunity to think about our health on a global level. We live in communities and our social relationships define us as a population. It’s everyone’s responsibility to look after water so that no one misses out and so that it doesn’t become contaminated.

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