Important UN Days

February 2 – World Wetlands Day

February 2 is the anniversary of the signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1971. World Wetlands Day recognises the value of wetlands in maintaining environmental health and biodiversity.

Wetlands are of biological, hydrological and economic importance. They serve as sponges that regulate river drainage flow by absorbing excess water during wet periods and then releasing that water during dry periods. They also break the power of floods, thereby protecting developments along river banks. Wetland vegetation purifies water by absorbing silt and pollutants. Wetlands are being degraded by damming, afforestation (exotic plantations require vast amounts of water), removal of plants and drainage of wetlands for developments, industries pumping waste water into them, and seepage of agricultural residues.

March 23 – World Meteorological Day

The World Meteorological Convention met for the first time on 23 March 1950. World Meteorological Day is the anniversary of this meeting and focuses on weather and atmosphere. We have now come to understand how life is maintained by natural cycles in nature. Through industrial and agricultural ‘development’, humankind has altered atmospheric water, oxygen and carbon cycles and global climates. All these sustain life on Earth.

Meteorological Day reminds us of our dependency on water, air and weather patterns. We need to take responsibility for future atmospheric and climate change because our limited and vulnerable food supplies and the well-being of life on Earth depends ultimately on the state of the atmosphere.

April 7 – World Health Day

All members of the human family aspire to a life of good health. In reality, huge numbers of people throughout the world experience ill health. In the North, many people suffer from lifestyle-related diseases like cancers, nervous and mental breakdown, heart and industrial disease, alcoholism and drug addiction. Poor people are afflicted by diseases of poverty. Malnutrition, tuberculosis and many infectious diseases are rampant in communities which often lack even basic primary health care facilities.

We all need to participate in the drive to achieve an acceptable state of health and well-being for all people. This will involve the provision of primary health care and a clean environment with potable water and adequate sanitation, food, shelter and education for the poor. We must also strive for better balanced and more secure and fulfilling lifestyles for the whole of humankind. World Health Day reminds us of this challenge.

May 1 – Workers’ Day

In Medieval Europe, the first day in May was celebrated as a general holiday to herald the coming of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. During the 1880s workers used the existing holiday as a day to celebrate workers’ solidarity. In 1890, Workers’ Day was recognised internationally for the first time.

Workers’ Day reminds us that all people who work deserve a fair wage and decent working conditions. It also reminds us of the importance of establishing justice and a sense of responsibility and caring in the workplace.

May 15 – International Day of Families

The International Day of Families is an opportunity to affirm and appreciate the intrinsic value of family life.

The nuclear and extended family is the foundation upon which moral and social behaviour is based. It is in this secure environment that we learn about love, compassion, human values and self-discipline. The current breakdown of family life is reflected in the violence and collapse of moral standards in our communities. High levels of mental ill-health and of drug and alcohol dependency are testimony to the loneliness, insecurity and uncertainty people are having to face without the traditional support of the family.

May 18 – International Museum Day

Museums give us valuable insights into our local and global heritage.

On International Museum Day we celebrate all that we have inherited. This is not only the art, music, literature, and oral tradition from our cultures but also that which we often delight in but frequently take for granted in the natural world. We must acknowledge and appreciate our own heritage and recognise the value of others. This is crucial for the well-being of all people. We must also rejoice in our common heritage – the Earth. We share a common purpose and responsibility to care for and conserve our precious planet.

June 5 – World Environment Day

World Environment day is a time of celebration and thanksgiving for our magnificent and unique planet. It is also a time when communities are encouraged to discover more about the world in which they live. People need to re-learn that they are not set above or apart from nature, but they are part of and dependent on it.

June 17 – World Day to Combat Desertification

Approximately one third of the Earth is arid or semi-arid. With the modern problem of global warming, it is predicted that in the next century the areas of desert climates will increase and every year more and more arid land will become unproductive.

On the 17 June 1994, the United Nations proclaimed World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. There was acknowledgment that desertification and drought affect all regions of the world and that international co-operation should be enlisted to combat the problem which is especially evident in Africa. The purpose of this day is to promote awareness of the implications of desertification and land degradation as well as the problem of drought and the need for international cooperation to contend with these problems.

July 11 – World Population Day

The most crucial factor which undermines any national effort to improve the social, economic and environmental lot of human existence is the ever increasing number of people in the world. We are reaching a stage when there will simply not be enough resources to provide for everyone’s basic needs let alone their aspirations for a better standard of living.

World Population Day reminds us of the problem and challenges us to seek solutions. These do not lie simply in ‘controlling birth rates’ but in improving the dignity of all people and in particular, the status of women. They also lie in improved health, education, housing and employment opportunities.

August 9 – International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

This is a special day to explore and celebrate the history and culture of the millions all over the world who are indigenous. Indigenous peoples are united by bonds to Earth, as well as many shared experiences including histories of colonialism, struggles for cultural survival and a rich sense of identity.

Learn more about indigenous people and indigenous knowledge in Module 11.

September 8 – International Literacy Day

Literacy plays an important role in everyone’s life. The ability to read has become one of the basic life skills needed to function in today’s society. Reading is central to the global campaign to promote a culture of learning.

Schools can celebrate Literacy Day in various ways. Reading sessions can be held at various town facilities. Celebrating this day is an opportunity to focus on libraries and their roles in schools. Education can be promoted at this time by reading literature that encourages caring for other people, economic justice and the environment.

September 16 – International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

The ozone layer is an invisible layer in the atmosphere that protects the Earth from harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun. This layer has started to degenerate because of the ozone-depleting substances used all over the world.

A protocol was signed in Montreal on the 16 September 1987 by governments for international cooperation to phase out the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. In 1994 the UN designated 16 September as International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. The day is an opportunity for the world to deliberate on the progress that has been made and to re-affirm the importance of preserving this natural shield around our planet.

September 17-19 – Clean Up the World

Clean Up the World involves over 100 million people from more than 110 countries in a wide range of activities to restore the Earth’s fragile environment. Clean Up the World was co-founded by an Australian, Ian Kiernan. During the 1970s he took up solo yacht racing and began to notice the polluted state of the world’s oceans and vowed to do something about the problem. With the support of a committee of friends, he organised a community drive, called Clean Up Sydney Harbour, which attracted 40,000 volunteers. The campaign went national in 1990 through the creation of Clean Up Australia Day.

Clean Up the World was established when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) adopted the concept as a global event to mobilise communities in working towards a healthy and sustainable environment.

September 21 – International Day of Peace

In a world where war is a constant reality, International Day of Peace brings focus to the need of international communities to assist each other in bringing peace. In recent years, the United Nations High Commission for refugees has assisted over 20 million people annually. The majority of these refugees were displaced because of conflict.

October 5 – World Teachers’ Day

World Teachers’ Day was founded by UNESCO in 1994 so that the contributions and achievements of teachers, as well as their concerns and priorities, could be the focus of the world’s attention over a 24-hour period. More than any social group, teachers are at the forefront of the movement in favour of literacy, democracy, equality, rights and liberties. They constitute a unique force for social change. Education International, the secretariat of the world’s teachers’ unions co-operates with UNESCO to ensure the successful celebration of World Teachers’ Day.

October 16 – World Food Day

Food, along with water, is humankind’s most precious renewable resource. World Food Day focuses on a resource which some take for granted while many are constantly without. It aims to encourage consumers to become more aware of the social, economic and environmental costs of food production and in doing so help develop healthier and more sustainable eating habits.

Global food security is now in the balance with malnutrition and famine increasing in some countries. Until the 1950s, the world has been able to produce adequate supplies of food in most cases. However, the world’s food producing capacity has been strained by increasing population numbers, the cultivation of marginal lands with dire environmental consequences, the replacement of local food crops with export-oriented agriculture, and the replacement of robust local strains of crops with high-yielding but sensitive varieties that require expensive fertilisers.

October 24-30 – Week for Disarmament and Development

One of the human family’s greatest longings is to be safe from danger. However, people do not become safer by owning weapons and countries do not become more secure through increased militarisation. Safety comes when people have the opportunity to develop their potential and their human dignity. It comes when people and nations learn to solve their differences through cooperation and negotiation, not confrontation and armed conflict. The cost of militarisation in financial terms and human lives is immeasurable. This money and these human resources would generate real and lasting security if they were spent on developing human potential and safeguarding the environment on which human survival depends.

The Week for Disarmament and Development encourages us to become more aware of the folly of militarisation and the need to develop sustainable lifestyles.

November 20 – Universal Children’s Day

Universal Children’s Day reminds us that children must never be denied their basic right to enough food, health, education and a safe environment. They must be nurtured for they are the future.

December 10 – Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is a reminder to the world of how corrupt and undemocratic government can undermine the basic human rights of their citizens, especially the poor, oppressed, voiceless and amongst racial and religious minorities.


Adapted from A Year of Special Days: Justice, Peace and the Environment, Share-Net, Howick, South Africa, 1999.

Author: gktoday

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