The increasing fragility of the Earth’s environment was highlighted yesterday and today by two annual global events, events in which Taiwanese have participated in growing numbers in recent years.
Yesterday was the 10th World Water Day, following the designation of March 22 by the UN General Assembly in 1993 as an international day to celebrate fresh water. Earth Hour, which takes place today, was initiated by the WWF seven years ago as a way to encourage public support for efforts to protect the environment by showing that simple changes in behavior can have a positive effect. Both days see events and activities aimed at raising awareness about what individuals, organizations, businesses and governments can do to help preserve this planet.
World Water Day took on extra importance this year because in 2010 the UN General Assembly, at the instigation of Tajikistan and several other countries, declared this year to be the UN International Year of Water Cooperation.
According to Greenpeace, only 2.5 percent of this planet’s total water supply is fresh water. It is a resource for which demand is rapidly growing, but one that is under threat from growing urbanization, environmental pollution and climate change. Managing water demand requires finding ways for collaboration and cooperation among competing interests.
On a global scale, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 on health and poverty was halving the number of people with no access to fresh water by 2015. That goal remains a distant dream. The UN would like to set a new deadline of 2025 to reach the target, but some experts have said it could take until 2075. That is unacceptable.
In Taiwan, water management is a key issue this year as the nation battles a drought that has already seen three northern counties, Greater Kaohsiung and at least one district in New Taipei City (新北市) implement the first stage of water rationing this month, reducing water pressure by 10 percent to consumers between 11pm and 5am. Officials have warned that second-stage rationing could begin in some areas by the middle of next month.
The drought has been caused by a scarcity of rainfall in recent months and the shorter-than-usual typhoon season last year — the Water Resources Agency said Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫) received only 10 percent of its average rainfall last month — but it is a scarcity that has become an increasingly common problem. Two years ago, the nation suffered its worst drought in nine years.
Every time there is a drought in this nation, government officials urge the public to implement conservation measures and encourage businesses to develop more water recycling technology. However, in between droughts there is often silence. For example, the Taipei City Government this week began free distribution of water-saving kits for household faucets and toilets, but why are these not available year-round and nationwide? Two years ago, the central government began talking about possibly raising water rates, but such talk faded with the rains that eventually eased the drought.
If a difference is to be made in preserving and protecting the environment, every day should be treated as a day to save water, not just when rainfall is scarce.
This is true for reducing wasteful usage of electricity as well. Lights will go off between 8:30pm and 9:30pm tonight at prominent locations around the nation as part of Earth Hour, including Taipei 101, but think of all the bright signs that light up cities every night and the appliances that are left plugged in when not in use. It will take more than an hour a year to make a dent in the amount of electricity wasted in this nation and others.
World Water Day, Earth Hour and Earth Day (April 22) all provide us with chances to contemplate and implement changes that will help reduce the demand on finite resources. However, it is something worth thinking about more than three times a year.