By Wayne Campbell
“Providing sustainable access to improved drinking water sources is one of the most important things we can do to reduce disease”
— World Health Organization Director General-Dr Margaret Chan
The international community recently commemorated World Water Day exploring the theme Water and Sustainable Development. World Water Day is set aside to bring global awareness to the many individuals who suffer from water related issues, such as, no or poor sanitation facilities, as well as, diseases such as, dysentery and diarrhea.
The vast majority of the Earth’s water resources are salt water, with only 2.5 per cent being fresh water. Approximately 70 per cent of the fresh water available on the planet is frozen in the icecaps of Antarctica. According to the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, one in three people are already facing water shortages (2007).
Caribbean countries have been implementing various measures to control the use of water as the region experiences a prolonged drought.
From Trinidad and Tobago in the south, to Jamaica in the north, governments and the various utility companies have announced stringent measures ranging from a ban on watering lawns, to washing vehicles as a means of dealing with the low volume of water in reservoirs as a result of the reduced rainfall.
Other islands such as Antigua and Barbuda and Guyana have been experiencing drought as a result of reduced rainfall. With the Caribbean region highly dependent on tourism having access to water is extremely critical for the survival of this major foreign exchange earner.
Tourism is one of the Caribbean region’s major economic sectors, with almost 30 million visitors contributing $49 billion towards the region’s gross domestic product in 2013, which represented 14% percent of its total GDP.
Undoubtedly, without access to safe sources of drinking water a country’s economic development will be severely hampered.
Access to a safe and reliable source of water supply is necessary for the human capital of any country to remain healthy and productive.
Alarmingly, despite all the advances in technology approximately, 748 million people worldwide do not have access to an improved source of drinking water.
Shockingly, 2.5 billion people do not use an improved sanitation facility. The practice of open defecation is still widespread in some parts of Africa due to poor sanitation and lack of access to water.
In the Jamaican society, our policy makers and politicians need to re double their efforts to rid all public schools of pit latrines and replace them with modern sanitation facility. The practice of open defecation is clearly linked to abject poverty as is the situation is all those countries where this occurs mainly on the African continent.
Disturbingly, many women and children specifically contract water borne diseases each year because of the difficult in accessing supplies of safe drinking water. According to some reports diseases from unsafe/untreated water sources kill more people yearly than all forms of violence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 3.6 percent of the global disease burden can be prevented by improving water supply and sanitation.
Clearly, access to water is at the core of sustainable development. In the words of Margaret Catley Carlson-Vice Chair of theWorld Economic Forum, water is an astoundingly complex and subtle force in an economy.”
It is evident that without reliable sources of drinking water a country cannot effectively plan ahead for the future. We need to ask ourselves what is sustainable development.
What is sustainable development?
According to the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.
The same source adds that sustainable development implies economic growth together with the protection of environmental quality each reinforcing the other. In other words we cannot speak about achieving sustainable development without first scaffolding the environment.
However, in a political system such as the Westminster model where the voice of the people is sometimes heard but not listened to, sustainable development will only be a fleeting ideal on which speeches and policies are crafted and where vested interests are served and corruption thrive.
Access to clean drinking water can be burdensome depending on where one lives.
Increased urbanization will focus on the demand for water among a more concentrated population. Asian cities alone are expected to grow by 1 billion people in the next 20 years.
Only sixty one per cent (61%) of the people in Sub Saharan African have access to improved water supply compared to ninety per cent (90%) in Latin American and the Caribbean. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Haiti has the lowest percentage of people with access to safe water at 62%, the Dominican Republic has 81% of people with access to safe water. Nicaragua is listed at 85% of people with safe drinking water while Jamaica has 93% of people with safe drinking water.
In developing nations the responsibility and burden for collecting water daily falls disproportionately on women and girls. As a result the education of many girls is shortened by their involvement in this daily domestic chore. It is estimated that on average than women in these parts of the world spend 25 per cent of their day collecting water for their families. The rights of women will be protected in as much as they have access to safe drinking water since walking miles in search of water put women and girls at a greater risk for human trafficking, physical and sexual assault.
According to the 2012 Survey of Living Conditions published by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) 36 percent of rural communities in Jamaica rely on untreated sources of water.
While Jamaica has made tremendous strides in providing safe drinking water for a significant percentage of its population more work is clearly needed in the rural areas. This task of getting more rural based Jamaicans access to safe and treated water sources will require all stakeholders to work in unison to this become a reality sooner rather than later.
The demand for a safe and consistent water supply is ever increasing. As more and more countries prosper the tendency is for an increase in individual wealth. Economic growth and increase in personal wealth are responsible for a shift in global diet, from one that was predominantly starch-based to one that consists mainly of meat and dairy, this of course requires more water.
There is also a relationship between climate change and access to water. Climate change will and is shrinking the resources of freshwater. The distribution of precipitation is very uneven, leading to tremendous temporal variability in water resources worldwide.
Secondly, the rate of evaporation varies a great deal depending on temperature and relative humidity which impacts the amount of water available to replenish groundwater supplies.
On a positive note, the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to be realized was halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. Between 1990 and 2010 over 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources such as piped supplies and protected wells.
Access to safe drinking water is a human right. In fact on July 28, 2010 the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.
As the world’s population increases we must be mindful that water scarcity is a real issue affecting many millions of people, especially the most vulnerable among us. There is clearly much more work required to ensure that people everywhere have access to safe drinking water as well as proper sanitation facility If we failed at this task as a global community we run the risk of not achieving the United Nations (UN )Millennium Development Goals (MDG,s).
Without adequate water supplies the quality of our lives will be severely hampered. In fact a country’s food and national security interests are compromised without a reliable and consistent water supply. Water is life.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.