2016 Water Day: Celebrate Water, Promote Its Sustainability

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Ama Kudom-Agyemang
March 22, 2016

Celebrate Water!!! Water is life, water is good, water is simply relaxing. Water is the first thought that comes to one’s mind when one’s throat is parched, or when one is extremely tired, or when one feels hot and sticky. While other liquids, can easily be replaced, water does not have that quality and it is this attribute that makes water so unique. And in the state when one’s entire being is seeking for water, nothing can ever satisfy that urge, like “simple wholesome water.”

water day today

So, when water is simply not available in the form that can meet a particularly need, there is chaos for the individual, household, community, industry and nation at large. Lives may be lost, jobs are affected, productivity comes to a standstill, socio-economic gains made are eroded, healthy lifestyles are compromised, poverty is entrenched and development is undermined.

Therefore, concerns about water should go beyond having the resource available and being able to access it. People should become much more concern about the source of water, the processes it goes through for distribution, the system that ensures such distribution, jobs that makes the all-inclusive structure function and the sustainability of every part of the whole chain or cycle.

It is against this background that the global community has dedicated this year’s celebration of World Water Day (WWD 2016) to “Water and Jobs,” and the national theme is: ““Improved Safe Water Access for Sustainable Livelihoods.” Both themes provide important opportunities to highlight the two-way relationship between water and the decent work agenda in the quest for sustainable development.

World Water Day is marked on every 22nd of March. The Day’s celebration was instituted by the UN to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

The focus of the celebration this year, touches on sustaining the system of production and distribution; while, efficiently identifying and addressing problems that affect the sustainability of the resource and distribution. Another point is ensuring equity in the distribution process so that no user – be it individual, household, industry, businesses, agriculture or the environment suffers.

Sustainable water supply refers to the sufficient availability of and access to water into the foreseeable future. It also means the availability of sustainably functioning water systems that provide adequate water quantity and appropriate water quality for a given need, without compromising the future ability to provide this capacity and quality.

Yet, ensuring sustainable supply of access to water is an increasingly critical challenge. The challenge arises from the fact that globally, water as a resource is changing due to population growth and migration, land use pressures and energy choices, and the changing climate. These factors are causing changes in water quantity, availability, and quality. The changing of the water resource is evidenced by its scarcity that afflicts poor people the most.

Children fetching water in Bangula camp in Nsanje district of Malawi
Children fetching water in Bangula camp in Nsanje district of Malawi

Meeting the water challenge through “building a sustainable water future,” will require a national effort that incorporates recognition of the cause of the problem and measures developed to mitigate the drivers, where possible. The mitigating measures should include designing water infrastructure to meet the needs of a people in a changing water environment; and developing adaptation strategies for the changing water environment. Additionally, the measures should also embrace sensitising communities to make better choices about water resources. Industries and manufacturing companies should endeavour to incorporate wise water use management practices; while the agricultural sector should adopt best practices that eliminate wastes and abuse, adapt to the impacts of climate change and enhance productivity.

Furthermore, measures must be put in place to ensure better monitoring, modeling, and forecasting of the national water future, so that stakeholders and decision makers have better information upon which to act.

However, ensuring water supply sustainability requires investing in water infrastructure in ways that can create jobs, reduce pollution, improve human health, and promote economic growth. A Study on Sustainable Water Jobs undertaken by the Pacific Institute, identified as many as 136 different kinds of jobs involved in implementing sustainable water strategies, from plumbers to landscapers, engineers to irrigation specialists.

The study indicates that 37 of these job types can have high growth in an overall economy, with each projected to have more than 100,000 job openings across industries by 2020. The Pacific Institute identifies numerous sustainable water occupations that are accessible to workers without advanced degrees. Most of these jobs, generally require on-the-job training, with some requiring previous experience and associate’s degrees or technical training, but not bachelor’s or graduate degrees. This translates to a more feasible pathway to employment for adults without formal education beyond high school.

Even though the study was conducted within the context of the USA, the results have bearings for a country like Ghana. As the national unemployment rate rises, and with unemployment and underemployment rising especially among low income earners, family-supporting jobs are greatly needed. Creating good green jobs in the water sector that reduce both pollution and poverty can, and should, be a national priority. These jobs are in many industries, such as the manufacturing of water conservation products and the installation of water infrastructure. Importantly, many of these jobs can provide career path- ways and good wages while promoting regional economic development.

But then, the issue is not just about sustainability of the resource. It is also about household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS). Granted that the water sources and supply system are sustainably managed and functional; how water is handled and stored at the household level can promote or endanger the lives of the people.

According to a UNICEF Report “at the household level, contamination of stored water is common. Citing a WHO source, the Report “Promotion of Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage in UNICEF WASH Programmes,” says studies in a number of pilot countries revealed that more than half of household samples from stored water showed port-source or after collection contamination.

This, according to the report is consistent with a large body of research worldwide that has shown that even drinking water which is safe at the source is subject to frequent and extensive faecal contamination during collection, storage and use in the home. This means that in areas where the practice of open defecation is widespread, faecal contamination could easily occur at the point of collection or even storage.

What is worrying about this situation is that unsafe drinking water, along with poor sanitation and hygiene, are the main contributors to an estimated 4 billion cases of diarrhoeal disease annually, causing more than 1.5 million deaths, mostly among children under 5 years of age. It further results in malnutrition and other health hazards.

Over half of all people in developing countries suffer at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits
Over half of all people in developing countries suffer at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits

Research has established that treating water at the household level is one of the most effective and cost-effective means of preventing waterborne disease in development and emergency settings. Promoting household water treatment and safe storage helps vulnerable populations to take charge of their own water security by providing them with the knowledge and tools to treat their own drinking water.

Because it prevents recontamination of water in the home, treating water at the household level is more effective than conventional improvements in water supplies in ensuring the microbiological quality of drinking water at the point of consumption. This translates into improved health outcomes. Household Water treatment methods include disinfection by using approved chemicals or boiling, and filtration through slow sand, ceramic or membrane filters fitted in a container.

To this end, the Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate and Community Water and Sanitation Agency of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in Ghana, is being supported by UNICEF to implement the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage programme. The current focus of the programme includes the implementation of WASH activities in five regions in the country namely – Central, Volta, Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions. The associated activities are being implemented in collaboration with THE Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS).

In Ghana, World Water Day, is being observed with a number of activities including a schools tree planting competition among the Ayalolo Cluster of Schools and a Stakeholders Dialogue at the Mantse Agbonaa Park, James Town, Accra.
(The writer can be reached on kudomagyemang@yahoo.com/kudomagyemanf@gmail.com)

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