This year World Water Day takes place against the backdrop of the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York, hailed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unite the world around solving the global water crisis. The theme of World Water Day 23 is Accelerating Change, focussing on solutions and actions to tackle the increasing global water and sanitation crisis.
Given the island of Ireland’s reputation for abundant rainfall and verdant landscapes, World Water Day may have seemed a geographically distant issue of concern in the past. But All-Ireland Director of the Rivers Trust Mark Horton is keen to stress that the issues highlighted by World Water Day are just as relevant to everyone across Northern Ireland and Ireland because we face our own unique water challenges.
“Across the island of Ireland, from Inishowen’s rivers in County Donegal, through Ballinderry River in County Tyrone, to the River Bandon in County Cork, we have 21 Rivers Trusts actively working in communities to protect and enhance our local water sources,” Mark said.
“This year, on World Water Day, I would love people to pause and think not just about the water crisis in other parts of the world but also reflect on what is happening to our own precious rivers, lakes, and waterway because they are also in serious trouble.
“It is easy to become complacent and take water for granted when you live in this part of the world where water seems abundant. We are used to turning on the tap and having access to unlimited, clean, safe water. But the reality is that the sources of this water, that which we depend on to survive, the very foundation for all life, is under increasingly severe pressure.
“Threats to water quality include invasive species, untreated human sewage, agricultural and urban run-off carrying soil, nutrients, and other nasties such as oil and heavy metals, plastic waste, household and agro-chemicals and increased demands on capacity.
“We are also grappling with water quantity issues. Despite being known as the ‘Emerald Isle,’ increasingly, we are subject to extreme weather events such as prolonged drought periods and more intense rainfall events, causing flooding. We need to accelerate change at home now if we are to enjoy wild, healthy rivers and good water quality in the future ”
While over 50% of Northern Ireland’s public water supplies, including drinking water, come from rivers, in 2021, none of Northern Ireland’s 496 rivers, lakes and coastal waters achieved a ‘good overall status’ rating for water quality. And last year, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 40-50% of rivers fail to meet environmental standards.
Mark concluded: “World Water Day provides an opportunity for governments, businesses, and individuals to come together, act locally and work with charity experts like The Rivers Trust to take action to address the water crisis both at home and around the world.
“Across the island of Ireland, this important awareness day serves as a reminder of the need for everyone to take collective responsibility and continue working towards sustainable water management practices and ensuring access to safe and clean water for all. We have proved that the solutions exist. We must act now and work together to put them into practice before it is too late.”