To ensure a more effective and responsible use of water resources, it is essential to inform the general public better about existing and emerging water problems. The usual channels of information transfer have various shortcomings. Oral transfer through lectures and courses is effective but reaches only a limited number of people. Audio-visual channels, like films and television, may play an important role in the future. Newspapers can also play an important role, but the interest shown by journalists in broadening the public's knowledge of water supply and water demand issues is generally less than the importance of those issues warrants.
Awareness campaigns and education programmes may be successful methods to persuade people to recognize that water is neither limitless nor free and to adapt their behaviour to the sustainable use of water accordingly.
World Water Day is 22 March each year. In 1996 the theme was Water for Thirsty Cities. An information kit, consisting of background papers, guidelines for country-level activities and wall posters was sent to country focal points, leading NGOs and relevant agencies of the United Nations. A 15-minute video on the themes of the Day was prepared. Two short videos were also prepared for distribution to international media.
UNCHS (Habitat) and UNEP, realizing that the exploitation by cities of an infinite resource must be urgently addressed, have recently initiated a project to assist African cities to manage water more effectively. The project, funded by the Turner Foundation, will address the issue of water conservation and demand management as well as protection of resources from the effects of urbanization. A project that effectively considers both these issues in an integrated way is very much needed and will provide a good example for other regions in the world. The project has three components: an information and awareness campaign to sensitize all stakeholders on the need to conserve precious resources; a water demand management programme which will demonstrate the benefits to be gained from progressive water tariffs, low-cost water saving technologies and repairing of leaks; thirdly a component on protecting water quality through effective policies and planning in areas such as effluent treatment and discharge from all polluting sources.