By Lilian Goh
Today is World Water Day. March 22 was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as World Water Day in 1993.
The event aims to raise awareness of the need to preserve water, which is a valuable resource.
This year's theme is 'Water and Culture', aimed at promoting the fact that there are as many ways of using and appreciating water as there are cultural traditions across the world.
Sacred water is at the heart of many religions and is used in rites and ceremonies.
For example, water is used in Buddhist funerals. It is poured into a bowl placed before monks and the deceased person. As it spills over the bowl's edge, the monks recite: 'As the rains fill the rivers and overflow into the ocean, so likewise may what is given here reach the departed.'
In Christianity, water is used for baptisms, public declarations of faith and a sign of welcome into a church. A person being baptised is fully or partially immersed in water, but babies only get a few drops sprinkled on their heads.
In the New Testament, 'living water' or the 'water of life' represents the spirit of God, referring to eternal life.
Water has been represented in art for centuries - in music, paintings, writing and cinema - and is also essential for scientific purposes.
As part of the international celebrations for World Water Day, a six-day global conference is being held in Mexico City. The theme of the Fourth World Water Forum is 'Local Actions for a Global Challenge.'
The forum is aimed at influencing governments to formulate policies that will help conserve and maintain the world's supply of clean water. The forum ends today.
Fresh water sources are under serious threat, according to a report released last week by the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The report Free-Flowing Rivers - Economic Luxury or Ecological Necessity? warns that the world's largest rivers are losing their connection to the sea.
Nearly a quarter of those that are still linked risk being disconnected in the next 15 years. Only a third of the world's 177 large rivers (1,000km and longer) remain free-flowing, unimpeded by dams or other barriers. Only 21 of these run freely into the sea, while 43 are large tributaries of rivers such as the Congo and Amazon.
WWF says the increasing loss of free-flowing rivers is a disturbing trend that threatens the supply of water for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, fish and fishery products.
Hongkongers are lucky to have an abundance of clean water. More than one billion people around the world do not have access to clean water, while more than two billion do not have adequate sanitation services. The annual death toll from water-borne diseases is estimated at more than five million.
These figures make World Water Day an ideal time to reflect on the importance of water.