Water Education and the SDGs: Strengthening the “Blue Thread”

Related: Check out Project WET's story about the water education and the SDGs on Impakter.

UN Sustainable Development Goals posterThe 17 Sustainable Development Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda range from concrete problems such as hunger and poverty to more abstract concepts like peace and justice. Still, separating one from the other is nearly impossible. How can gender equality be achieved without quality education? Can good health and well-being co-exist with hunger, or when clean water and sanitation are unavailable? How can we power sustainable cities and communities without making progress on affordable and clean energy? The examples of interdependence are nearly endless.

Recently, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) released its Policy Brief for July 2019, “Connecting the SDGs through resilient water management,” in preparation for the 2019 High-Level Political Forum on the 2030 Agenda. The authors acknowledge how intertwined all 17 SGDs are but also go a step further, identifying water as the “blue thread” that runs through the 2030 Agenda:

“Water resources, and the wide range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental resilience. From food and energy security through decent work, cities and production, to human and environmental health – water improves social wellbeing and inclusive growth affecting the lives and livelihoods of billions.”

We couldn’t agree more, and that means water education does not just connect to SDG6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) but to all 17 targets.

Water’s relevance to so many aspects of the 2030 Agenda makes water education critical for moving forward. Citizens must understand the basics of water—the water cycle, water’s role in health, water quality—to be effective water managers, personally and as part of their communities. As SIWI explains, “Water is a master variable for life on earth and if we fail to consider water management within our broader development plans and actions, we will fail to reach our targets.”

Screencap of SIWI blog post by Kristina JohanssonSIWI’s brief highlights several specific ways in which improving water management and awareness can reduce poverty, inequality, hunger, aquatic and terrestrial environmental degradation, economic disparity and injustice, including:

  • improving the effectiveness, fairness and transparency of water governance from the local to transboundary level;
  • recognizing water’s value when it comes to social, environmental and economic prosperity;
  • taking a human-rights based approach to water and ensuring that women, youth, indigenous populations and vulnerable groups are empowered to take action and become right holders as well as duty bearers.

In each of these examples, water education has a role to play. Effective, fair and transparent water governance is predicated on stakeholder understanding of water issues. Water education can impart that understanding. Recognizing the value of water, too, depends on individual and collective knowledge about water’s unique physical and chemical properties, as well as its role in making life possible on Earth. Objective, science-based water education can also empower women, youth, indigenous populations and other vulnerable groups to take appropriate local action to solve water issues in their communities and around the world.

SIWI Programme Officer Kristina Johansson makes an apt link to astronauts in a blog post introducing the idea of water as the blue thread:

“When astronauts go to space in search of life on other planets, they first search for one thing – water. All human activity, as well as our environment, are dependent on this precious resource. Today our world is facing large-scale challenges such as climate change, ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss, inequality and poverty. All these challenges require our urgent response, not in the future, but now. And just like the astronauts, we should be focusing on water.”

At the water festival, NASA Astronaut Ricky Arnold answered questions from Glenallan studentsAt a Maryland water festival this year, NASA Astronaut Ricky Arnold answered questions from elementary school students Her words echo those of Ricky Arnold, a NASA astronaut who spent six months on board the International Space Station. Arnold, who also serves as a volunteer Board member for the Project WET Foundation, has spoken extensively about what being in space has taught him about water on Earth.

Speaking to elementary school students in Maryland on World Water Day this year, Arnold said, “Earth is like a spaceship. We’re all sharing the same resources, and we need to think every day about how we impact these precious resources, particularly water.”

By focusing attention on water—and specifically on educating people about its management, conservation and value—the Project WET Foundation and our network of partners around the world are working to advance the 2030 Agenda as a whole.  As SIWI’s Johansson concludes, “A holistic and resilient approach to water management can tackle our global challenges and provide solutions for several issues at the same time. The 2030 Agenda can only be reached if we accelerate our ambitions with water and ensure that the blue thread that we are all dependent on keeps on flowing.”

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