Water Calamity: The Role of Youth Management

Published on 29th April 2014

Courtesy: World Vision
In the year 2000, one of my neighbors sent a visiting daughter, Mavis, 15 years then, to fetch water from a nearby well. This is a neighborhood with all the entitlements to pipe-borne water supply. But in a typical developing country environment, water hardly flows even in areas with such facilities. Being so unfamiliar with drawing water from a well, Mavis slipped into it. Shouts from colleague drawers drew the attention of some good Samaritans who were passing by to rescue her from the well.

Incidentally, that was no news to residents of the area and elsewhere. Indeed, a couple of lives have been lost as a result of going to such wells and streams to fetch water. Others have been knocked down by vehicles while crossing streets to fetch water. This is not a recent but traceable phenomenon that needs attention, especially, as most of the victims are the future leaders of their respective countries and organizations across the world.

Throughout history, water has been a people’s slave and master. Great civilizations have risen where regular water supplies were assured. Any calamity that befalls a nation’s water supply automatically undermines its civilization and thus leads to its demise. Examples of such civilizations include ancient Egypt and the Ganges Valley of India.

When water supply limits itself to portable water, it becomes more serious. This is so because water is second (after air) to life. The need for drinking water is simply unquestionable. Every living organism takes in some amount of water everyday. Human beings are more in dire need of drinking water every other day of the month.

Many countries around the globe lack access to portable water, making life unbearable as they go about their daily activities. Even those with water have to travel long distances before having access to it. The rural poor are the most vulnerable. The average distance undertaken by African women and their counterparts in other developing countries to fetch water on a daily basis is approximately six kilometers. Sadly, the load of water that these women carry is equivalent to an individual’s baggage allowance on an airplane. Does this not sound pathetic?

In my country Ghana and others such as Nigeria, Gambia, Benin, and Burkina Faso, school-going children often get to school late, a situation which tremendously affects their academic development. You can imagine the consequences of just this one act on their future careers and livelihoods.

Provision of portable drinking water in Third World environments is very expensive and difficult. Even in situations where there is availability of water, conveying it to the communities always becomes a major problem to tackle. Either there is lack of funds or the appropriate human resource to ensure the regular supply of this all important resource.
In the year 2003, a United Nations report indicated that about one-and- half billion people lack access to portable water. A greater percentage of this number is in the remote rural areas and the urban slums.

The unavailability of water has serious health implications; and this has accounted for prevalence of most of the preventable diseases in rural communities. In many countries like Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Uganda, Gambia, Sudan, and others especially in the pastoral communities, water is shared with livestock and other creatures. The endemic nature of diseases such as guinea-worm, buruli ulcer, elephantiasis, cholera, etc. can therefore be well explained.

In the year 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 1.1 billion people lacked access to safe drinking water and 2.4 persons live without access to sanitation systems. An estimated 14 to 30 thousand people, mostly young and elderly, died everyday from avoidable water related diseases. The fact is that, the lives of these people were among the poorest on our planet and are often devastated by this deprivation, which impeded the enjoyment of health and other human rights. It is estimated that half of the hospital beds in the world are occupied by patients who are suffering from water related sicknesses. About 200 million people are infected with dysentery.

In the UN Millennium Declaration of the year 2000, all the 150 heads of state and government pledged to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. Since lack of water engineered health problems, the Johannesburg Declaration adopted at the World Summit of Sustainable Development in September 2002 set a complementary target of halving the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation by 2015.

According to a scientific study, to be able to curb this danger, there is the need to reduce the number of incidents by 77 percent through water and sanitation programmes. Many problems have accounted for the unclean water systems on the globe. At the agriculture front, almost 70 percent of all mobilized fresh water is used for agriculture. In fact, it has been estimated that one-third of global food production is based on irrigation.

I cannot talk about agriculture and leave out the manufacturing industries. The application of fertilizers and pesticides for agriculture are significant; being recognized as water pollutants. Day in and day out, chemicals and waste water from the manufacturing and processing industries have contributed to water pollution across the globe. Our day to day activities of dumping garbage and human excreta into streams, rivers, lakes and seas pollute such water bodies.

These notwithstanding, there are many good policies that could be tabled to improve the management of public water systems that would be beneficial to everybody. Indeed, it is important for Governments, policy makers, and of course all stakeholders to find it very useful to develop cost-effective methods to ensure clean water to every household. Public Utility and Regulatory Commissions would thus find it expedient the need to reduce the exorbitant taxes on water to make it a necessity rather than a want.
Water is known to be of strategic security and has very sensitive political as well as socio-cultural implications. Therefore, having the privilege to run the affairs of water need not only be looked at from the economic point of view. It could be heavily loaded with tension, the precursor to unrest and uprisings.

The interests of all stakeholders - government, civil society, communities and, particularly the youth should be factored into finding a lasting solution to the portable water issue.

The youth should be mobilized to form task forces that would monitor destruction and pollution of water bodies by reporting to the authorities those who destroy watersheds, banks and wet-lands. It is pertinent to note that, large rivers in West Africa such as the Volta, the Gambia and Niger have lost much of their water due to traditional farming activities which leave slopes and watersheds bare of vegetation, thus allowing excessive heat and subsequent loss of great volumes of water meant for domestic, agricultural and industrial use.  Yet again, some illegal fishing practices whereby chemicals are used to harvest fish from the streams and rivers cause a lot of harm to not only the life in such water bodies but the water itself becomes poisonous for human use. Community water use, where provided, is usually an apology of sustainability theory and practice.

In 2006, during the World Water Forum in Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo said politicians needed to mobilize people and form new partnerships for change and also provide support through appropriate legislation and good leadership. This statement should not to be seen as mere political talk; rather, it needs to be seen as an anchor that inspires our leaders to implement policies that go to ensure adequate provision and management of water for development. This is a wake-up call towards the access to safe and clean potable water.

Towards the realization of such policy objectives, Governments should mobilize the youth, through the media, for example, to lead in the education of the people on judicious usage of water. But water cannot be used if not there. The protection of our watersheds and courses needs to be heavily entrenched in the public education construct. The potency of the youth in this exercise can be guaranteed by their exuberance. The agencies concerned, in collaboration with the youth groups, need to intensify their public education on issues concerning water management to satisfy their customers. Water management needs not to be politicized. Hence, the need for political leaders to stop interfering in the management of water systems.

Another way of ensuring good water management is to strengthen institutional reform that could check corruption, bureaucracies, and bottlenecks. This justifies the inclusion of right-to-water articles in the statutory books of some, if not most, countries.

A few examples may suffice here. In Ethiopia, Art. 90 (10) of the 1998 Constitution states that, “Every Ethiopian is entitled, within the limits of the country’s resources, to clean water.” In The Gambia’s Constitution of 1996, Art. 216 (4) emphasizes that, “The state shall endeavor to facilitate equal access to clean and safe water.” This article is equally expressed in the 1996 Constitution of Zambia (Art. 112) whereby the State shall endeavor to provide clean and safe water.

Governments, Non-Governmental Organizations, and all stakeholders need to recognize the urgent need to provide adequate water that would satisfy human and environmental needs and demands. The old ways of water management could be improved. Water managers especially should change their seeming nonchalant attitude to work and see as well as appreciate that, water is life, and working in that field is really a service to providence and humanity. This is a call coming from my experience as an African – in fact, our attitude to work, despite the human capacity and capability at our disposal, can hardly be written home about.

I take this opportunity to specially appeal to the international community and donor organizations to seriously consider the allocation of funds for capacity building of the youth to play meaningful roles in the provision and management of water systems. They are the generational leaders, and, therefore, have a greater stake in the real politics, now and later, of water.

I have not succeeded in solving the problem of water supply and management; I have only tried to lay bare the fact that, throughout history, water has been a problem in both urban and rural settings of human settlement. It is unfortunate that rural communities, which house about 70% of humanity, are the most affected. Incidentally, the youth who wake up in the early hours of the day to fetch water are hardly involved in the provision and management of water. This situation needs rectification if we want to succeed in our efforts at providing water to majority of our communities, at least, by 2015.

Lack of water is not only a serious factor to quenching thirst, or water for domestic, farming or industrial use; it is a recipe for the numerous preventable diseases such as malaria, guinea-worm and buruli ulcer that afflict millions of citizens of the Third World. This is underscored by the Johannesburg Declaration of 2002, which targeted halving the proportion of people without access to potable water by 2015.

Alarmingly, research findings reveal that by the next 20 years, two-thirds of the world’s population will lack adequate water supply. This puzzle needs urgent attention and action to allay the fears of humankind. This, perhaps, goes to strengthen the call for the mobilization and organization of the youth to bring them on board. Building their capacity to take the battle of access to water to its logical conclusion is very important in sustaining water supply through effective management. It is time the old ways of water management were discarded; and the role of the youth cannot therefore be sidelined.

Human survival is dependent on water. It is ranked second only to oxygen. It forms the foundation of blood and lymph, maintains heart muscles and young looking skin, lubricates joints and organs and regulates body temperature. Domestically, water is everything: washing, cleaning, gardening, cooling, cooking; the list is inexhaustible. At the agriculture front, water for animal use and irrigation and transportation becomes equally important to complete the clarion call for water provision and management, of which the youth can play important roles.

By Daniel Nana Aforo
The writer Daniel.naforo@gmail.com is a Journalist, Public Relations Expert, and Youth Activist.


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