As activists across the globe celebrate World Water Day on Saturday, UNC’s The Water Institute is working on campus and internationally to help make safe water and sanitation a reality for all people.

Dr. Jamie Bartram, Director of The Water Institute, is currently in Brisbane, Australia, delivering a keynote address for The International Water Centre’s: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) International Conference.

Ashley McKinney, a Communications Specialist for the institute, says that Bartram and his team published a study which estimated that 28 percent of the world’s population, or 1.8 billion people, had used unsafe water in 2010. That estimate was one billion people more than the estimate by UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

“The study really questioned how you define what is safe water. It has really pushed the essence of who is living without safe water much higher,” McKinney says.

In response to the global water crisis, The Water Institute was created three years ago with two main missions: to teach and to research.

The institute, along with other partners, launched the ‘Water In Our World” campus-wide theme for 2012-2015 school years.

“The whole campus will be united around this academic theme of ‘Water.’ The goal really is to think about how each of us, and the choices that we make, can have an impact locally and globally,” she says.

The theme for World Water Day this year is “Water and Energy.”

“We need to really think forward. We need to think ahead. Of course the demand for water is increasing widely. The demand is increasing because the population is increasing. The demand for fresh water and energy will continue to increase over the coming decades. It will put a lot of challenges and strains on our resources,” McKinney says.

World Water Day has been observed since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 as the global day of awareness for clean water.

McKinney explains The Water Institute holds three conferences annually to bring together people from diverse disciplines to tackle water and public health issues.

In 2010, the institute launched the “Water and Health: Where Science Meets Policy” conference. In 2013, more than 500 researchers, policy-makers, students and entrepreneurs from 45 countries attended the event.

In March, the institute launched the first “Nexus 2014: Water, Food, Climate and Energy Conference.” And, coming up on May 5 through May 7, the institute is hosting the 2014 Water Microbiology Conference.

McKinney adds there are ways the community can contribute.

On March 26, the Aveda Institute on Franklin St. is hosting a “Cut-A-Thon” from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. McKinney says all donations go to The Water Institute in efforts to support the clean water initiative.