Water Sustains us, but are we Sustaining our Water?
In February, the United Nations released its latest Global Population Growth and Sustainable Development report. One of its key findings was that while the world’s population will continue to grow and is expected to peak around 2100 at almost 11 billion, most of this growth will occur in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.
With this growing population comes an increasing need for fresh water. According to WaterAid1, the withdrawals of fresh water from ground or surface water sources have increased six-fold since the beginning of the 20th century, and it is the developing countries that are impacted the most.
Agriculture is by far the thirstiest consumer of water globally, accounting for 70% of water withdrawals worldwide, although this varies across countries. Meanwhile, domestic water use accounts for 10 per cent. Yet worldwide, an estimated 748 million people remain without access to clean water.2 This raises two key questions:
- How do we ensure access for all?
- How do we use the water we have sustainably?
Ensuring Access for All
Despite it being a crucial necessity and fundamental right, millions of people worldwide do not have access to clean water – for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. For many communities, there is no water supply; it is not affordable, accessible or designed to last.
We must work with these communities to ensure clean water reaches those most in need. Universal access to clean drinking water is critical to reducing inequality, alleviating poverty, and supporting inclusive and sustainable growth, as is access to education, health care, food security, housing, and sanitation.
In Timor-Leste, MWIA and the Loreto Sisters are working with community members in Ostico to source underground water and establish the infrastructure needed to provide an ongoing, sustainable clean water source.
Sustainable water is reached when a nation or community can be water self-sufficient; there is enough water to meet domestic, agricultural, and industrial needs. It is when the water supply is consistent, despite natural or human-made disasters. Importantly, it is when we can meet the water needs of the present without sacrificing the needs of future generations.
To obtain sustainable water, several factors need to be in play – from optimising environmental, economic and social benefits by identifying and developing projects with the community to ensuring infrastructure investments are cost-effective and resource-efficient.
MWIA believes the sustainability of any project is in direct proportion to the level of ownership of the activity. Ownership can be measured by the size of the contribution that the community makes, that is, how much of their own assets and resources, including management, they use to design, construct and maintain the project. In the case of Timor-Leste, we are mindful we need to work with the committees set up in each village to manage the delivery of water, health, education, agriculture and electricity services.
Water sustainability can also mean energy neutrality by coupling traditional water technologies with renewable energies, such as in the case of the MWIA-supported Solar Energy project at the Mary Ward Retreat Centre in Kenya.
On a global scale, having sustainable water means providing each person on the planet with affordable access to the minimum 20 to 50 litres of daily water required to sustain life.3 With water being one of the planet’s most essential resources, we need to rise to the surmountable challenge of using it responsibly.
Author: Hannah George, Executive Officer, Mary Ward International Australia
1, WASH Facts and Stats, WaterAid
2-4, Sustainable water: Our essential guide to sustainable water resource management solutions & strategies, Fama Center
5, Global Population Growth and Sustainable Development report, United Nations, p. 72