Sunday, 17 January 2021

UN in your language

A Spanish testimony on a threatened “Waterland”

Enrique PachecoEnrique Pacheco says he thinks he was born to be a photographer.

However, there was nothing inevitable about him becoming a photographer who focused on the abundant water resources of a country bordering the Arctic circle. Pacheco was born in Madrid 33 years ago in a country better known for its long dry summers which increasingly result in water scarcity.

During a trip to Iceland in 2008 to work on an environmental conservation project, he became fascinated by the landscape and people, and decided to settle there. With "one foot in photography and the other in film making," the omnipresent water in Iceland caught his attention.

The result is the documentary "Vatn" (Water in Icelandic) which premiered a couple of weeks ago in Spain - both on screen and in the web edition of Spanish newspaper El Pais (

"In this film", Mr. Pacheco says, "instead of focusing the viewer on the antagonist - the human industry - I chose to portray the situation in a different way. In "Vatn", you will see no factories or industries. Instead, you will see the beauty of water, and its full expression. You will also hear the voice of water, as the protagonist in this situation. I hope that by considering water as a living being, we will grow in our passion for protecting what is truly important. I invite you the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions: will we preserve this environment?"

You can view the film "Vatn" here:

In Focus talked to Mr Pacheco and asked him, why water?

"When I arrived in Iceland for the first time I realized that there was water everywhere. It is something that captures your attention immediately. Maybe this country should be called Waterland instead of Iceland. The second thing I found out was that the water and the natural environment were under threat by multinational companies whose only concern is to produce energy by building big dams and geothermic energy plants. That had a big impact on me, especially after knowing well the landscape and vast natural resources of the country. That was when I decided to make a film about how wonderful nature is in Iceland and how important it is to preserve it. "

There are obvious differences between Iceland, which has the biggest reserves of fresh water in Europe, and Spain which suffers seasonal scarcities. Does that influence you?

"My first documentary film was also related to water and energy in Spain. In this film I addressed the problem of electricity production combined cycle power plants. These plants not only pollute the air but also consume a lot of water for refrigeration. Water is a scarce resource in Spain and fortunately the people are already aware of that, however it seems that the companies are only interested in profit."  

Bullfighting is the Spanish national sport. The Corrida consumes 15,000 litres for every kilo of its bodyweight. At the same time there is seasonal water scarcity in the country. Is there an awareness in Spain that water has to be used wisely?

"There are many activities in Spain with very high water consumption. Golf is a very good example of this. Nonetheless, agriculture is still the biggest fresh water consuming activity, using 70 per cent of all reserves. I believe that more people are aware that we need to preserve water and use it rationally. The problem is that the administration and the big companies are not oriented towards water saving policies since this would have a negative impact on their profit margins. And these are the actors that use more water. The overall household consumption of water does not reach 10 per cent of the total. Therefore, what we must demand from our politicians and companies is that they have a more responsible attitude to water consumption. "

Related Links:

cinema icon3 Questions to Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Member of the High-level Panel on Sustainable Development.


  • 97 % of earth’s water is in the oceans. Only 3 % of the earth’s water can be used as drinking water. 75 % of the world’s fresh water is frozen in the polar ice caps.

  • 884 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water. However, 1.7 billion have gained such access since 1990.

  • The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is 6 kilometres.

  • 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.

  • Each day 5,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases.

  • Average water use ranges from 200-300 litres a person a day in most countries in Europe to less than 10 litres in countries such as Mozambique

  • People living in the slums of Jakarta, Manila and Nairobi pay 5 to 10 times more for water than those living in high-income areas in those same cities and more than consumers in London or New York.

  • In Manila, the cost of connecting to the utility represents about three months' income for the poorest 20% of households, rising to six months' in urban Kenya.

  • In many places of the world, a staggering 30 to 40% of water or more goes unaccounted for due to water leakages in pipes and canals and illegal tapping.

  • The production of 1 kilogram of:
    o rice requires 3,000 litres of water
    o maize requires 900 litres of water
    o wheat requires 1,350 litres of water
    o beef requires 16,000 litres of water
  • Between now and 2025, it is expected that the world will need 17% more water to grow food for the increasing populations in developing countries and that total water use will increase by some 40%.


1st United Nations World Water Development Report 'Water for People, Water for Life' (WWDR1, 2003),
the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) publication "Global Population and Water: Access and Sustainability"
and NASA Earth Observatory’s The Water Cycle