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On March 22, World Water Day marked the start of the United Nations’ International Decade (2018-2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.
Why should Canadians care?
The 2017 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study confirms that we take water for granted, typically viewing it as an unlimited and abundant resource. At the same time, Canadians very much value that abundance and see our waterways as integral to our national identity.
Part of that identity is defined by our place on the international stage. Canada holds a reputation for leadership in diplomacy, tolerance, respect, and multicultural generosity. As it aims for a seat on the UN security council, the federal government should focus on how to define itself in an even more prominent way as a social and environmental innovator, as well as a key catalyst for positive change.
Through the framework of water policy, the next UN decade offers Canada a unique opportunity to position many of its priorities, from peacekeeping to women’s and Indigenous rights to environmental sustainability, on the international stage.
To be sure, developing national policies and programs that are cutting-edge is no easy matter for politicians who typically scramble to put out immediate fires. Nevertheless, as the authors of the RBC study point out, it is now “time to tell a more compelling story about the importance of water, not just to our environment but to our economy, our identity and future prosperity.”
That story is all the better informed, once governments work more closely with academics and community partners. Science policies, for instance, can only benefit from the recent appointment of Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, who will help Minister Duncan to raise scientific awareness amongst Canadians and the global community.
Intellectual advisory capacity for the federal government is similarly available on the water agenda through a recently organized, pan-Canadian network of water leaders, called “the International Water Decade Alliance” (IWDA). A coalition of 22 partners, it includes 12 universities who, with NGOs and industry collaborators, aim to serve as an expert, community-based platform for national water policy development and implementation.
The group aims to provide leadership in advancing water-related SDGs within Canada, by focusing on development priorities from water security to human rights advocacy to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Alliance is constituted by passionate water leaders across the nation, and is guided by someone already well known to the United Nations, Dr. Zafar Adeel, Executive Director of Simon Fraser University’s Pacific Water Research Centre.
A former Chair of UN Water, Dr. Adeel has stood at the UN in New York in recent months, advocating for Canada’s leadership role in water sustainability on the international stage. With Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, Canada co-hosted one such high-level event at the United Nations General Assembly last September. There, Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Hon. Ahmed Hussen, declared: "I'm proud to say that we support the International Decade for Action - Water for Sustainable Development, a global effort aimed at support, for building support and momentum, for starting out the implementation of water-related SDGs.” He also acknowledged the integral belonging of policies around women’s rights and water issues by rightly noting that "Canada believes women should be at the forefront of efforts to support the international decade for action.”
The decade has now formally begun. There is a need for advanced dialogue, knowledge mobilization, research, advocacy, and innovative policy development relating to women’s rights, Indigenous health, environmental sustainability, resource security, and peacekeeping. Each of these issues are core to developing a federal water agenda. The IWDA coalition of water experts stands poised to help.
The 2017 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study confirms we take water for granted, typically viewing it as an unlimited and abundant resource. At the same time, Canadians value that abundance and see our waterways as integral to our national identity.
In the end, the start of the UN water decade serves as a reminder to Canadians that our water future is changing, and it is integral to understanding who we are. Even if we take it for granted, the place of water in our lives is not a peripheral matter. As theologian Matthew Fox suggests, just try going without it for three days to discover its existential importance to our own identity.