In December 1992, the UN General Assembly declared 22 March World Water Day, to be celebrated each year. With increasing populations and economic activities, many countries face water scarcity – which in turn limits their economic development.

Sadly, not a single World Water Day over the past 25 years has focused on how water could be put high up on the political agendas of countries on a long-term basis. Until this happens, probabilities of solving national, and then global, water problems are slim.

An analysis of the last 50 years would indicate that except for Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s prime minister from 1959 to 1990, no other leaders of any other country have shown sustained interest in water in normal times. They are interested in water only when there are severe droughts or heavy floods. Once these extreme events are over, and situations return to normal, their interests in water promptly evaporate.

In contrast to national political leaders, most water professionals from all over the world, from academia, public and private sectors and NGOs, explicitly or implicitly consider water to be one of the most, if not the most, important issue facing their countries.

If this gulf in perception between national policymakers and the water profession is to be bridged, the latter must change their current messaging.

In recent decades, the focus of the water profession has been exclusively on good planning and management. However, this has not got national political leaders interested in water on a long-term and sustained basis.

This is because they are elected or judged primarily on the basis of improvements in the economic and social conditions of their countries. Thus, to attract their attention on water issues, the message to them should focus on how good water management can contribute to a country’s social and economic development, poverty alleviation, job creation and improved quality of life for citizens.

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