Sustainably saving water


Water shortage has been identified by industry, government, academia and civil society as one of the top three global risks of highest concern. India, home to 16 percent of the world’s population, has only 4 percent of the world’s water resources at its disposal. Burgeoning demand for water due to growing population is projected to very soon overtake the availability of water. It is therefore imperative to link Fresh water and Sustainable Development to ensure no one is left behind, says Dr. Arvind Kumar

Do you know over 1.7 billion people live in river basins where water use exceeds recharge, leading tothe desiccation of rivers, depletion of groundwater and the degradation of ecosystems? Water shortages have been identified by industry, government, academia and civil society as one of the top three global risks of highest concern.

The human right to safe drinking water place obligation on States to ensure that services are affordable. More than two billion people are compelled to drink contaminated water, resulting in a child dying every minute of every hour of every day. Without safe drinking water, it is harder for women and girls to lead safe, dignified, productive, and healthy lives. It is now widely recognized that the primary determinant for addressing the issues of global poverty is the provision of safe water; access to safe water enhances the potential for educational opportunities (particularly for girls) and facilitates participation in local community economic development. It would be safer to say that economic security is also at risk due to lack of clean water.

When clean water arrives in a community the impact ripples through every aspect of daily life. Freed from the persistent disease that results from dirty water and poor sanitation, their future becomes brighter as does the economic prospects of their communities and countries. Women no longer have to spend hours every day fetching water that they know could well make their children sick and deplete their funds in availing medical facilities. Instead they can spend more time helping their families, perhaps with time to boost the family income. Understanding the relationship between drinking water and good health is vital to population and public health.

The need of the hour is to go circular by embracing the need to recover, recycle, repurpose, refurbish, repair, refuse, rethink, reduce, reuse and remanufacture. Attainment of the targets of the SDGs (Is it Sustainable Development Governance?) within a stipulated period along with achieving the targets of Paris Agreement on Climate Change, with water being at the core, can be facilitated by adopting new policies and programmes based on innovative
techniques and technology along with new concepts of cooperation and partnership in tandem with existing concepts and approaches. Scientific concepts like new water, rewilding, use of green infrastructure, roof-top gardens holds high potential to revive the water economy and the application of circular economy principles can help us meet the step changes to practice that will be necessary for it to meet future water demands.

India, home to 16 percent of the world’s population, has only 4 percent of the world’s water resources at its disposal. Burgeoning demand for water due to growing population is projected to very soon overtake the availability of water. Currently, our on-field experiences working in the Aspirational Districts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand by way of community engagement and stakeholder consultation resulted in understanding the problems and challenges of the six aspirational indicators underlying the water sector, basic education, health, infrastructure, financial inclusion and skill development. It summed up, to the absence of clean drinking water and as discussed earlier led to 80% of the illnesses prevalent in rural India which further prevented children from attending schools leading to economic disparity. It forms a vicious cycle and we have to work towards breaking this vicious chain because sustainable interventions can only be achieved through education, empowerment and ownership. Moreover, without an understanding of the social, political, cultural, historical and economic contexts within which humans live, work and play, sustainable change in human behaviour is not possible.

To link Fresh water and Sustainable Development, some Key Imperatives must be acknowledged which as per my understanding can help in filling up the gaps:
· To secure Water as Human Right, we must envisage the twin-track approach of Comprehensive Water Governance’. Governance mechanisms at all levels (local, national, regional and global) need to be more open, inclusive and accountable to marginalised groups. Local communities must be closely involved in developing local targets and indicators, and take an active role in monitoring and holding local authorities accountable for SDG implementation.
· Combining these instruments into a well-designed policy is critical for effectiveness For example;
water legislation must prioritize water use for domestic consumption over other uses. A well designed policy needs to have a substantive vision accompanied by assessment, monitoring and evaluation for cost effective benefits so that they can be appropriately improved based on an assessment of feedback mechanisms.
· Nature based solutions like recharge of natural aquifers, community conservation water bodies, Integrated Water Shed Management, restoring wetlands, water food energy nexus should be adopted.
· Upholding the human right to water and sanitation requires paying special attention to geographical differences in access, access by vulnerable and marginalized groups, and affordability issues.

Bringing your attention to a recent yet important news piece “Delhi: Everyone wants a piece of Yamuna”, it is acknowledged that the river continues to flow quietly through the heart of the city but is quite dirty & murky which can be a source of fresh water. The ancient city Delhi is lost in a haze of water pollution with Yamuna as a sewer, uncontrolled sprawling growth and urbanization, inadequate solid waste management creating an environmental disaster zone not necessarily because of lack of resources only, but also because of lack of policy and proper planning.

As water resources become more stretched, the energy and food sectors’ dependence on water, and the fact that all three underpin several of the Sustainable Development Goals, means that decision-makers in all three domains are now increasingly focusing on water resource management, ecosystem protection and water supply and sanitation as part of their policy and practice. One of the targets is the attainment of policy coherence for sustainable development, which requires the individual goals to become interlinked. The governance of water and climate change are the themes that are best connected to SDGs and should therefore be addressed by policymakers by adopting a multi-sectoral approach to policy integration. “Leave no one behind” is a core principle of the 2030 Agenda and policy integration is a necessary condition for its successful implementation. Recognizing that the dignity of the human person as fundamental, we wish to see the Sustainable Development Goals and targets met for all nations and for all segments of society. And we will endeavor to reach the furthest behind first. This is also in line with Gandhiji’s idea of ‘Sarvodaya, reaching the last man standing’. It also means focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

To conclude, Sustainable Development is supported by ‘nature’s contributions to humans’, including the rich biodiversity, and the four ecosystem services—supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural services. We often take these for granted and therefore must begin with a new paradigm of moving towards Conscious & Collaborated’ efforts envisaging water as a Valuable Resource. The inextricable linkages between these critical domains require a suitably integrated approach to ensuring water and food security, and sustainable agriculture and energy production worldwide. Broad estimates indicate an investment of One Trillion USD in water sector in India in the coming years and it is felt that water is the oil of 21st century and will command the world market place in the years to come and this time is Ripe & Right to #SolveDifferent and collectively make sure ‘No one is left behind’.

Dr. Arvind Kumar

Dr. Arvind Kumar is the President and Founder of ‘India Water Foundation’, a New Delhi based civil society organisation.