Everybody depends on it; there is no substitute for it if we run out; in some places, it’s more valuable than oil. Freshwater is at the very core of human development: it is inextricably linked to food security, economic growth, and poverty reduction.
At face value, water use for food production today largely occurs at the expense of ecosystems, which is the number one reason for their rapid degradation. Already, a quarter of the world’s major rivers no longer reach the ocean.
According to a new study published by Nature Communications, about 40% of global irrigation water is used unsustainably and violates life-supporting environmental flows of rivers. To achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, these water volumes need to be re-allocated to the ecosystem, which puts a heavy strain on current agricultural water use: food production would drop by at least 10% on half of all irrigated land, with losses of 20-30% at the country level, especially in Central and South Asia.
Amy Pickering laughs when she thinks of all the things that went wrong with the impact evaluation she recently completed of a water chlorination project in the slums of Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka: delays, monsoons, and more delays.
“It was the hardest project I’ve ever done,” says the seasoned research engineer, now a professor at Tufts University, who was working on a project funded through the World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund.
Clean water is an issue in Dhaka and other overcrowded cities in the region, where contamination by bacteria can lead to high rates of diarrhea, harming children’s growth and health. For Pickering, who specializes in water quality and diarrheal disease, the challenge was finding a water treatment technology that could work without electricity and operate in Dhaka’s extreme weather.
Mollar Bosti is a crowded slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, home to 10,000 people: garment workers, rickshaw drivers, and small traders, all living side-by-side in tiny rooms sandwiched along narrow passageways.
With the land subject to monsoon flooding, and no municipal services to speak of, the people of Mollar Basti have been struggling with a very real problem: what to do with an enormous and growing amount of human faeces.
Traditionally, their ‘hanging latrines’ consisted of bamboo and corrugated metal structures suspended on poles above the ground, allowing waste to fall straight down into a soup of mud and trash below. Residents tell stories of rooms flooded with smelly muck during monsoons; outbreaks of diarrhoea and fever would quickly follow.
But conditions have improved for much of the slum. With help of a local NGO, the residents negotiated permission for improvement from a private landowner, and mapped out areas of need. Today, they proudly show visitors their pristine, well-lit community latrines and water points. They report fewer problems with flooding and disease.
Today marks World Population Day and this year’s theme is “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations”. It is an opportune moment to reflect and continue the conversation on demographic trends that I started through my blog on fertility decline last month.
What do casinos in the Las Vegas desert, beachside cultural sites in Malta, and palm groves around centuries-old markets in Marrakech have in common? The answer lies beneath a veneer of seemingly disparate societies and geographies: this improbable urban trio shares the same story of dwindling water resources and associated crisis management. The good news is that these fast growing, tourist-invaded, and arid urban areas are constantly writing new chapters of their water stories. We believe that these chapters, featuring a world of possibilities for innovation and learning, are worth sharing with water scarce cities around the world.
How do you persuade people to use a toilet? This is an urgent question across rural India: somewhere near half a billion people are still defecating in the open, and the Swachh Bharat Mission is urging them to stop by 2019.
India has about 650,000 villages. Many have tried different techniques - some successfully, some not. What if there were a “Google of sanitation”, where you could search for success stories of others who have faced the same situation, and a “LinkedIn of Sanitation” where you could reach out to peers with questions?
Eliminating inequality is integral to the Sustainable Development Goals , from ‘universal access’ to water, to ending poverty ‘everywhere’. Yet in a world where the politics of who gets what is increasingly polarised, leaving no-one behind is fundamentally a political project.
In a recent study with WaterAid in Nepal, for example, we found that in rural areas a combination of poverty, caste, and geography have shut the poorest fifth out of politics. While access to water has increased significantly for others, they are lagging behind.
Every city, country or district has its own political rules, most of which aren’t written down. Yet despite all this complexity, experts working on essential services like water, sanitation, health or education can avoid some common political missteps, wherever they work. Here are four most typical ones:
I am constantly startled by references to “population growth” as a cause of a number of development challenges. Whether it’s urbanization, food security, or water scarcity, all too often “population growth” is cited as a cause for pessimism or even a reason not to strive for progress. I can almost see Thomas Malthus grinning at me from the shadows.
It gets worse. I recently reviewed a paper where higher fertility among minorities was touted as an explanation for their poverty! A few months ago, a respected professional wrote asking why we weren’t doing more on family planning, since fertility in Africa would pretty much stymie any efforts to provide infrastructure-based services! I hear statements to this effect routinely from policy makers in charge of infrastructure ministries and projects (“how can we keep up with the population?” or “nothing we do will be enough unless we control the population”) but am always amazed when I hear them from scientists of different hues.
This past February, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta officially declared the drought in his country a national disaster. No rain had fallen for months in East Africa, causing a dire living situation.
Tribes migrated to find water and food, and we saw an increase in the amount and severity of conflicts, specifically between herders and owners of large farms.
In the cities, the situation is not much better. Nairobi’s main water supply is a dam which is currently only 20% full. The Nairobi Water Company is rationing water, and many people only have running water once a week.
Agriculture is suffering; the price of milk has risen from 40 to 65 Kenyan Shillings (KES) for half a liter in just six months. Maize meal, a staple food, has gone up nearly 40%, with the state recently announcing a subsidy for maize.