Over the past decades the concept of water, which always referred to the field of natural sciences, gradually moved to human sciences with the result of being associated to the notions of needs and consumption. If taking a closer look it suggests a strong relation between human beings and their activities, disregarding to a certain extent the existence of water as itself as intrinsically independent from man. If wanting to define water as unbound to the uses, habits and interactions of human societies, then we could simply say that water is a natural element. In such different perspective, the issues posed by the relationships between human beings and water is no longer expressed in terms of exploitation – however sustainable it might be - need or human right, but in terms of respect, responsibility and dignity. For centuries, civilizations developed in proximity of large water basins. Nowadays rivers, lakes and oceans still substantially define our life in terms of wealth, human development and health, with particular regard to the poorest and most vulnerable populations.
On 28 July 2010 UN General Assembly Resolution 10967 recognized the access to clean water and sanitation as fundamental human rights and as a consequence several different models have been formulated to provide a growing optimization in the field of water resources management. However, the limits of the approaches adopted so far, from the water-energy-food nexus to the new Sustainable Development Goals, rely on the utilitarian nature of the context where they have been conceived.
Water, the “blue gold” of the XXI Century, is a strategic resource mirroring the complexity of the modern world. When human beings started to modify significantly the environment, primary needs connected to water has exceeded a critical threshold. Due to population growth, technological innovation as well as growing consumption, secondary needs multiplied because of new exploitation systems which turned resources into products whose necessity is induced and not essential for survival. Moreover, the Earth dynamics are not oblivious to great climate and environmental alterations, but these usually take place along cycles of thousands and millions of years. The forcing of the planet caused by anthropocentric activities, discordant with the pace of the planet, seem to be even more disproportioned and worrying if considered in the framework of the Earth's complex system, where each action, small or big, generates reactions and feedback sometimes indirect, often unpredictable.
This inspires the principle of water culture, according to which the water is not a material good but an element to be protected as such, regardless interests, needs and policies typical of each group or community, which may threaten it.
Since 1972, when the United Nations Conference on Human Environment (UNECHE) took place in Stockholm, the focus shifted from basic environmental protection to social issues, highlighting the contradictions of the development model that was aligned exclusively to economic factors. Following the “Earth Summit”, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the interconnected notion “development-environment” was included in the concept of sustainable development, which encouraged the international community to promote studies, research, programmes and initiatives, to endorse declarations and provide guidelines that, however, did not prove to be conclusive. Starting from 1950 the global water demand tripled and projections says that it will double again by 2050.
However, while problems still remain, in In 2017 almost 92% of the world's population has access to "at least basic water" and almost 70% has access to "at least basic sanitation" while the availability of water per capita decreased from 17.000 to 7.500 cubic meters per year worldwide and water scarcity affects 40% of the world's population. addition, water quality is becoming an emerging critical problem. Agricultural, industrial and drinking water pollution emissions spoil both surface and groundwater of scarce-shared water resources to the point of making them unusable and with the consequence of destabilizing countries at the social and political levels and by contributing to the growth of massive migratory flows.
Similarly, conflicts for competing water uses are rising, as well as water-related epidemics and natural disasters which affect the safety and health of human beings and the natural eco-system, fundamental for the well-functioning of the environment. Three quarters of all the jobs are connected to water. This highlights the impact as much as the existing dependency from an over-exploited resource. A development system whose economic stability relies on unlimited growth over limited resources is itself contradictory. Economic growth and environmental sustainability, however, are not incompatible elements; on the contrary they merge into only one real commitment: the preservation of water which implies a reorientation of our mindset by adapting our needs to water resources and not the other way round.
Hydroaid starts from here, an understanding among public institutions and civil society sharing the opportunity of contributing through concrete actions to the shaping of a sustainable and better future.