2016 has become the year for water. From the World Economic Forum, COP22, to the Budapest Water Summit, water has been widely acknowledged as a key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and essential to the climate change solution.
Here are the defining moments of 2016 that put water security and sustainability on the global agenda like never before:
Since 2011, that has changed. As shown in Figure 1, the proportion of people with access to a toilet has more than trebled – from under 20 percent to nearly 68 percent. Of 9,892 Gram Panchayats, the local level of government in India, almost a third – 3,545 – has been declared free of open defecation. That includes all Gram Panchayats in five of the state’s 33 districts, with more set to follow. What has gone right?
. Poor source water quality, non-existent or insufficient treatment, and defects in water distribution systems and storage mean these consumers use water that often doesn’t meet the WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality.
The crowdsourcing framework develops a strategy to engage citizens in measuring and learning about the quality of their own drinking water. Through their participation, citizens provide utilities and water supply agencies with cost-effective water quality data in near-real time. Following a typical crowdsourcing model: consumers use their mobile phones to report water quality information to a central service. That service receives the information, then repackages and shares it via mobile phone messages, websites, dashboards, and social media. Individual citizens can thus be educated about their water quality, and water management agencies and other stakeholders can use the data to improve water management; it’s a win-win.
We cannot talk about water and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 without also looking at everything that depends on it: from climate, food and electricity to families, farms and ecosystems. It is thus quite simple, either.
Water and climate change are also intertwined, with some regions at risk of losing up to 6 percent of GDP by 2050 if the growing challenge of water scarcity is not properly addressed.
One of the biggest hurdles is the lack of sufficient sources of finance. Financing the SDG sub-targets for water supply and sanitation alone will cost triple historic financing levels - an estimated $114 billion per year between now and 2030. The shortfall for financing irrigation and water resource management sub-targets will likely be as large, if not larger.
Agriculture is both a victim and a cause of water scarcity. Water of appropriate quality and quantity is essential for the production of crops, livestock, and fisheries, as well as for the processing and preparation of these foods and products. Water is the lifeblood of ecosystems, including forests, lakes, and wetlands, on which the food and nutritional security of present and future generations depends. At the same time, agriculture is the largest water user globally, and a major source of water pollution. Unsustainable agricultural water use practices threatens the sustainability of livelihoods dependent on water and agriculture.
Additionally, climate change will have significant impacts on agriculture by increasing water demand, limiting crop productivity, and reducing water availability in areas where irrigation is most needed or has a comparative advantage. A growing number of regions will face increasing water scarcity. Climate change will bring greater variation in weather events, more frequent weather extremes, and new challenges requiring the sector to take mitigation and adaptation actions.
Extending the human right of access to water supply and sanitation (WSS) services to Indigenous Peoples represents the final step for many countries to reach universal coverage in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). As the 7th Rural Water Supply Network Forum is underway in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, we must remind ourselves what “inclusion” means in the WSS sector. Poverty levels among Indigenous Peoples are more than twice those found among other Latin Americans, and they are 10 to 25 percent less likely to have access to piped water and 26 percent less likely to have access to improved sanitation.
With dire consequences on health, productivity, and well-being, these access gaps also exemplify two shortcomings of past engagement with Indigenous Peoples in the WSS sector: Indigenous territories have often been overlooked, and, even where investments specifically target Indigenous Peoples, WSS service sustainability remains a large issue. Several barriers explain this: investors’ and service providers’ lack of understanding of Indigenous Peoples' unique social and cultural characteristics, limited engagement with Indigenous authorities and attention to their priorities and aspirations, and the remoteness and difficult access to many Indigenous communities, to name a few. More generally, we need a tailored approach that responds to these challenges through institutional development, partnership with Indigenous authorities, and local capacity building for WSS services management in order to overcome the existing system that incentivizes physical interventions in easily accessible areas with limited social accompaniment.