March 22 is the World Day for Water. Sweden's capital, Stockholm is a city balanced between lake and sea, a city that boasts of water so clean you can go for a swim or catch the evening’s fish in the city center.

We have previously noted that one in four Swedes regularly takes to the water. Sweden boasts more than 1.3 million leisure boats in a nation of 10 million people, and 25 to 30 percent of Swedes describe themselves as active boating enthusiasts. One Swedish American hypothesized that perhaps her love of water could be part of a Scandinavian or Swedish heritage. And certainly, with Sweden’s long coastline, deep inlets, and thousands of lakes and rivers, water has played a dominant role in most Swedish lives.


Small wonder then that Sweden has become a frontrunner in many areas of water research, the development of new technologies and policymaking. For water is no longer something to be taken for granted and is no longer an issue confined to academic research. The fact is that close to one billion people currently do not have access to an adequate water supply, two billion people do not have adequate sanitation facilities and less than one percent of the world’s water is actually fresh, usable water.

Nor are these problems isolated to developing countries. What Sweden’s professor Malin Falkenmark once termed “water blindness” is affecting us all. Although it is far from unlimited, we have come to expect the “fresh” water running from our faucets or through streams to flow forever. And yet, according to Environment Nutrition Magazine, around 20 percent of the U.S. population (over 50 million people) is exposed to substandard drinking water.

The water issue constitutes nothing less than a major question of human survival and is closely related to both the eradication of poverty and the need to secure health as well as adequate food supplies.

March 22 is World Water Day. Instituted in 1993 it was founded as a day about taking action to tackle the water crisis. And yet, as a layman, I find it surprising to discover that no activity related to water has so far been planned for a World Water Day at the UN headquarters.
Björn von Euler, a former spokesperson for ITT Industries, had this to say in an interview: “Solving the problems worldwide will take the cooperation between science, corporations, nations and society, and in many countries, the women.” As global sponsor for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, Xylem (formerly ITT Industries) has taken upon itself the goal of increasing water research—and awareness of this research—among the younger generation. “Water is life, and future life belongs to the coming generations. The Junior Water Prize is about life in the future.”

In addition to Xylem, through its acquisition of Flygt Pumps, a number of Swedish companies have become involved in water research and the development of new technologies. A surprisingly large number of Swedes are, and have been, involved in the policymaking process on a global level—every year the Stockholm International Water Institute, SIWI, organizes the World Water Week in Stockholm to network, exchange ideas and foster new thinking around today’s most pressing water-related challenges.

The drought in California lasted for five years with a state of emergency declared since January 2014. The rain did come. Three months ago almost 75 percent of the state faced drought conditions compared to today’s less than 20 percent. Some areas got too much of the needed water too quickly, such as the area of Sveadal in the Santa Cruz Mountains—rumors have it that the annual traditional Midsummer celebration will not be held this year due to road conditions.

It took three years and the occasional brownout before people in California woke up to the problems of scarce electricity. The same might become true about water, only with much more critical ramifications—we can live without the electric shaver or air conditioner but water truly IS life. Water, so important for Sweden, the United States and the survival of the world and human race, needs our attention.

Ulf Barslund Martensson

Everyone has heard of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, but did you know:
• 1 in 10 people lack access to safe water? 663 million people (that's twice the population of the U.S.) in the world do not have access to an adequate water supply
• 1 in 3 people lack access to a toilet (2.4 billion)
• According to, an organization co-founded by actor Matt Damon (H2O Africa) “to bring water and sanitation to the world,” more people in the world have a mobile phone than a toilet.
• 50 million Americans are exposed to potentially harmful levels of hazardous materials when they turn on a faucet (source: Self Magazine)
• 62 million Americans have since 2004 been exposed to drinking water that did not meet at least one commonly used government health guidline. (The NYT, Dec. 2012)
• The water crisis is the No. 1 global risk based on impact to society (as a measure of devastation). Announced by the World Economic Forum, January 2015.
• March 22 is the World Day for Water

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