World Water Day: What does water mean to you?

London, United Kingdom, 22 March 2021 - 


Valuing better Diets

Water is often described as a precious commodity, but it is so much more than that. It enables and sustains life. In households, schools and workplaces. Water can mean health, hygiene, dignity and productivity. In cultural, religious and spiritual places, water can mean a connection with creation, community and oneself. In natural spaces, water can mean peace, harmony and preservation.

Water is key to human food security and nutrition. 

Did you know that drinking water is classified as food? [1] Safe drinking water and sanitation are fundamental to the good nutrition, health, and dignity of all. Water is also crucial for food production through fisheries, crops, and livestock; food processing from the industrial to household level; and food preparation, by people at home, as well as by formal and informal food vendors. Water is also essential for industries and for economic growth. Water used in non-agricultural sectors also contributes to food security and nutrition by increasing incomes and facilitating access to food.

For large parts of the world, water resources are under increasing stress. Population growth, rising incomes, changing lifestyles and diets, and growing demands for different uses of water, are all increasing pressure on limited freshwater resources [2]. These resources are also threatened by climate change.

GAIN works across food systems to make sustainable healthy diets more desirable, available, and affordable for all. Clean water is a foundational element that enables our work. The following sections explore the value of water from different perspectives across GAIN’s rich diversity– from the professional to the personal. 

Hands getting water from tap

A group of children getting water from a tap. © Shutterstock

How water sustains life in drylands

In Isiolo and Marsabit counties of northern Kenya, temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius are common and rainfall is low. These are arid and semi-arid lands. When it does rain, there are often floods, causing havoc and exposing communities to health dangers. The communities are pastoralists, with most households dependant on livestock and few producing crops. Markets for trading livestock and market information are limited, as is dietary diversity. Livelihoods are precarious and acute malnutrition, particularly of women, children, and the elderly is a perennial challenge with complex causes. 

Despite significant efforts and interventions aiming at reducing acute malnutrition over past decades, the situation has not changed much due to the fact that interventions have not addressed some of the underlying drivers of poor nutrition like accessibility and availability to safe, nutritious food products, high rates of youth unemployment, underdeveloped food value chains, poor infrastructure (especially rural roads), and natural resource pressures, and access to clean water. 

No one can know the infinite importance of a tiny drop of water better than the man of the desert.

"Nawiri" meaning "to thrive" in Kiswahili is a multi-sector package of services to support local institutions sustainably reduce persistent acute malnutrition among vulnerable subpopulations of Isiolo and Marsabit counties in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands.

"To enhance the consumption of safe and nutritious foods every drop of water counts. Water is essential in farm production, processing, food handling and food preparation. No one can know the infinite importance of a tiny drop of water better than the man of the desert. Availability of clean water for households and production is one of the components that Nawiri will be seeking to address in the fight towards acute malnutrition." - Jacqueline Sigu, Project Manager, GAIN Kenya.

The value of water during COVID-19

Most consumers in low-income countries purchase their food from informal markets. The emergence of COVID-19 has threatened disruption and closure of informal markets, potentially restricting access to nutritious food, impacting both consumers and vendors.

Safe water, clean and functional toilets, and handwashing stations with soap at every market, are clearly simple changes that will save lives during and post-pandemic.

Having access to clean water has been an essential element of keeping markets open and operating safely. 

“In most African and Asian countries, traditional food markets are fundamental for people’s lives. Safe water, clean and functional toilets, and handwashing stations with soap at every market, are clearly simple changes that will save lives during and post-pandemic. Building back, a better food system it is, at the same time, critical for something so crucial, that keeps the flow and flowing through the whole system.” - Augusto Diogo Navarro de Almeida, Programme Manager, Keeping Food Markets Working. 

Water is personal

To me, water is thirst quenched. 
A cold, running flow.
Enabling my vegetable garden to grow.

To me, water is hydration.
Fuelling me to move, work and play,
Sustaining life each day.

To me, water is precious,
A necessity for future generations.
Let's invest and protect for today and tomorrow, for all nations.


[1] Codex Alimentarius

[2] FAO White Paper: Towards a water and food secure future: Critical perspectives for policy-makers.