Water is one of the key resources required to sustain life. It has led to the development and generation of significant material culture in the form of objects, technology and places. How to obtain it, how to store it, how to harness its power and conserve it has motivated human endeavor in a myriad of ways. It has also been the catalyst for the development of significant cultural practices which have generated intangible cultural heritage values. Cultural World Heritage sites offer a wide spectrum of water elements, from glorious water gardens to spectacular aqueducts, grand transport canals to ingenious water mills, while natural World Heritage sites greatly contribute to the global cycle of water and to providing clean water to the world.
Today on World Water Day, the World Heritage Centre joins the international community to raise global awareness for the need for better management of waste water, especially at the 1052 World Heritage sites located in 165 countries.
Industrial demands have led to alarming levels of pollution that have proved especially threatening to water resources. Development projects are also posing a serious threat to traditional strategies that have ensured human survival for millennia. UNESCO’s World Heritage sites offer outstanding possibilities as venues for promoting awareness among policy-makers, professionals and the general public of just how serious the impact of our current way of living is on the vanishing resources of the planet-including water. Those sites are also well positioned to become the pilot areas for a better understanding of the role of water in society and its intimate association with the development of humanity.
More importantly, these sites are showcases of human ingenuity, revealing how different societies faced with scarcity of water have come up with imaginative solutions that saved them from stagnation and possible collapse. In this regard the intangible aspects of improvements in water technology in terms of ethics and social organization can also be taken into account, in order to ensure that future advances in water technology are well integrated into a border social reformulation with safeguards against runaway consumption and further aggravation of our ecological plight.
The world’s common water legacy and the ingenious technical and social solutions devised by past generations to cope with a scarcity of water may also be considered as a tool for innovative approaches to shaping our common future.