Nature and Biodiversity

What is World Water Day? 

Hands and running water.

Access to clean, safe water remains elusive for millions around the world. Image: Unsplash/mrjn Photography on

Joe Myers
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Climate and Nature

  • World Water Day is held every year on 22 March to raise awareness of global freshwater challenges and solutions.
  • This year's theme is Water for Peace, exploring the links between water and instability and conflict.
  • The World Economic Forum's UpLink platform showcases how innovation and entrepreneurship can help conserve and protect freshwater.

World Water Day is held every year on 22 March, and is a United Nations (UN) day focused on raising awareness of the importance of freshwater.

This year's theme is Water for Peace. The aim is to highlight the tensions that can emerge over resources like water, leading to potential instability and conflict, but also the role that water can play, if carefully managed, in promoting peace.

World Water Day 2024.
This year's theme is Water for Peace. Image: United Nations

What is the Forum doing to address the global water challenge?

Why does World Water Day matter?

The stats around freshwater speak for themselves:

  • Over 2 billion people still live without safely managed drinking water.
  • Diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor sanitation kills a child under 5 nearly every 2 minutes.
  • Three in ten schools globally don't have a basic water service.
  • In 2021, more than 2 billion people lived in water-stressed countries. This is expected to be made worse as a result of climate change and population growth.

And so World Water Day has been observed since 1993 to highlight the work that remains to ensure everyone on Earth has access to clean drinking water. And while it's a high-profile issue – check out our podcast with Matt Damon below – the figures above emphasize the challenges that remain, especially with freshwater usage increasing each year.

The World Health Organization warns that "historical rates of progress would need to double" for the world to achieve universal coverage of basic drinking water services by the end of the decade.

From climate change to urbanization and demographic changes, water supply systems face numerous risks. Indeed, the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report 2024 lists "natural resource shortages" as the 4th biggest risk over the next decade.

That's why raising awareness on conserving and protecting freshwater for everyone on Earth is vital, especially as the world looks to find – and implement – solutions.

Top 10 risks
Resource shortages were identified as a significant risk. Image: World Economic Forum

What's the link between water and peace?

With billions of people without water access and a global system under pressure from numerous evolving threats, the potential for scarcity or pollution to spark tensions is all too clear.

More than 3 billion people depend on water that makes its way across national borders, the UN explains. And yet, just 24 countries globally have cooperation agreements for all the water they're sharing.

Water, therefore, has the potential to trigger instability when different users clash over finite resources. As well as potentially being weaponized during conflicts, access to clean drinking water can also be hit as a result of attacks on vital infrastructure.

But, if freshwater can be managed sustainably and equitably it can also be a catalyst for peace, say the UN. As UNESCO explains in a new report, Water for Prosperity and Peace, "Cooperation over water resources has generated positive and peaceful outcomes, ranging from participatory, community-led initiatives that have relieved local tensions, to dispute settlement and peacebuilding in post-conflict settings and transboundary watersheds."

Find out more about the challenges in the session below from our Annual Meeting in 2024 Out of Balance with Water.

Innovation to help improve water security

Innovation and entrepreneurial thinking can also help conserve and protect freshwater sources. The World Economic Forum's UpLink platform, along with partner HCL, has run a series of challenges seeking solutions to this issue.

The latest – the Zero Water Waste Challenge – was focused on conserving freshwater from supply to demand and helping move the world towards zero water waste. Find out more about the winners in the video below.


Collaboration between public and private sectors has a significant role to play in providing clean water for all, and ensuring a sustainable, resilient global water system. As global leaders explain in this video from 2023, global water supplies face numerous challenges, but solutions do exist.

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