Over the last 1.5 years, you will have heard it over and over again: “wash your hands to stop the spread of COVID-19". The need for good hygiene has never been so high. But not everyone could follow this advice. Billions of people worldwide still do not have access to clean water, a basic need. “This has a direct impact on their health, equal opportunities and economic development,” says Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs.
Water management is vital to life
People need clean drinking water and good sanitary facilities to survive. This is not only true during the current pandemic. “The water problem is becoming ever bigger because of climate change. It is becoming more visible, too. By 2050, the damage caused by flooding will increase to a trillion dollars a year. Worldwide! This will also lead to millions of victims and refugees,” explains Henk. Dirty water damages our biodiversity and is bad for our health. But flooding is not our only problem. Extreme drought also has long-term effects. These include food security, the economy, peace and general security.
Henk is the Special Envoy for International Water Affairs. He acts as the Dutch government’s water ambassador. His task is to make people more aware of water management to deal with water problems worldwide. But how does he go about this? Where do you even start when the water problems are so big and complex? “By sharing knowledge and experience and strengthening expertise and capacity. We also help by working in disaster areas, from conflicts to floods. And we encourage innovations to make water secure and safe for everyone, everywhere,” says Henk enthusiastically.
He continues, “We need innovations to fight global warming and prepare us for the effects of climate change. But that is not enough. We must use water to bring about sustainable development and climate action.” The water problem is not high enough on the agenda in the Netherlands, either. “As a small country, we cannot make a difference by ourselves. We urgently need greater international awareness and cooperation.”
UN Water Conference
In 2023, the Netherlands and Tajikistan will co-host the UN Water Conference. This is a good moment to demand attention for the water problem and ask for support for the sustainability agenda. This can help us achieve our aims in the run-up to the UN Conference and the following years. As one of the chairs, the Netherlands can use the moment to make international agreements. It can also ask for commitments that will lead to actual change. “To do this, we must become more active and complete our projects faster. It is important and it is possible. Pandemic or not, everyone must be able to wash their hands!” concludes Henk.