An urgent World Water Day call to action

Posted On March 19, 2021

Protecting a 10,087-hectare customary forest in Indonesian Borneo has preserved clean water for the downstream community of Sungai Utik, while sequestering an estimated 1.31 million metric tonnes of carbon. Photo: Kynan Tegar


On this World Water Day 2021, the theme ‘valuing water’ specifically recognizes the crucial role of healthy ecosystems in maintaining water supplies around the world. Amid a water, nature and climate crisis, the reciprocal relationship between water and ecosystems is a concept we must more fully embrace—and fund.

Water security is “alarmingly off track”

Never before has the call for water security—or the call to protect the natural ecosystems that help underpin it—been so urgent. The 2020 SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework found progress on SDG 6 water goals is “alarmingly off track.” Today, 2.2 billion people—about one-fourth of the global population—still lack access to safe water, global water demand is projected to increase by 55 percent by 2050, a 40-percent water deficit is projected by 2030, and water-related losses could reduce GDP by as much as 6 percent in some regions by 2050.

Natural ecosystems: At the heart of the water solution, but in peril

Forests, wetlands, grasslands, and mangroves provide valuable ecosystem services for water. They naturally protect and filter source water, regulate water flows over time, and protect communities from climate-intensifying water-related disasters. But these same ecosystems are under severe threat: 420 million hectares of forest have been deforested globally since 1990, and 87 percent of wetlands have been lost since 1700.

Nature-based water solutions from the world’s Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples and local communities are leading the way in implementing nature-based solutions to solve the triple water, biodiversity and climate crises. UNDP’s Equator Initiative provides inspiring examples:

Now is the time to invest

There is a compelling case for investing in nature-based solutions for water security. Although global water infrastructure investments have long favoured conventional gray infrastructure, investing in nature-based solutions provides significant returns on investment. For example:

An urgent World Water Day call to action

To achieve water security, we must rapidly advance nature-based solutions on national and global water policy agendas, and bring local solutions to scale. To do so, we call on decision makers to:

An inflection point for investing in nature

As we envision post-COVID recovery investments and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, we must prioritize investing in nature. Water sits at the nexus of agriculture, food security, human health, economic development, climate stability, and peace. Nature-based solutions for water can powerfully deliver on several multilateral frameworks, including a range of targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN Climate Change Convention and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

On this World Water Day, we are again reminded that “all water is generated by ecosystems.” Let us forge a new path with nature to ensure water security for all.