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Opinions of Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Columnist: Adwoa Van-Ess

Celebrating World Water Day, better water, better jobs!

Today is World Water Day, an international observance which provides a forum to learn more about water-related issues, and an opportunity to celebrate, show support and get inspired to take action on a big development challenge of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation.

World Water Day dates back to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development where an international observance for fresh water was recommended. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly responded by designating March 22, 1993, as the first World Water Day and it has been held annually since then.

Each year, UN-Water, the entity that coordinates the UN’s work on water and sanitation, sets a theme for the celebration of the day to correspond with current or future challenges confronting fresh water resources. This year, the theme, 'Water and Jobs' with the slogan, ‘Better Water, Better Jobs’ , highlights how enough quantity and quality of water can change people's jobs and lives. It also aims at creating recognition for those working with water. Furthermore, for the first time, the national planning committee has chosen a local theme: “Improved Safe Water Access for Sustainable Livelihoods” to reflect the needs of the Ghanaian populace.

The objective of the celebration of the day is to raise public awareness about sustainable water supply, job opportunities and the relationship between access to safe water and sustainable livelihoods. It is also to sensitise the public to the importance of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for improved livelihoods and sustainable jobs.

Pertinent issues

Both the theme and objectives raise pertinent issues like the need to ensure that mechanisms put in place for the provision of water services are sustainable; taking cognisance of the relationship between sustainable access to safe water and livelihoods, as well as how some livelihood activities impact negatively on water access and resources.

Today, almost half of the world’s workers, 1.5 billion people, including those in Ghana, an agricultural country, work in water-related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery. Yet the millions of people who work in these sectors are often not recognised or protected by basic labour rights.

Water shortages

For us in Ghana, we just witnessed the unfortunate water shortages in some parts of the country. Indeed, we continue to witness the deterioration of our water bodies due to climate change and variability, increasing population growth and uncontrolled urbanisation, as well as improper land use for agriculture along riverbanks. There is also increasing pollution through activities such as indiscriminate dumping and discharge of untreated urban domestic waste, discharge and contamination from illegal mining and other industrial processes, as well as leaching of agro-chemicals from large commercial farms.

These factors, apart from having serious health impacts on workers and the society in general, also discourage decent employment opportunities with attendant social and economic costs. For instance, a young girl who walks hours each day to fetch water for her family, is employed in a job which is not paid for, hence not recognised. If the delivery of water was ensured, this girl could be in school instead.

As a country, this is a clarion call for us to reflect on the state of our water resources and how best to implement and achieve the water and sanitation-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform the lives of our people. The slogan, ‘Better Water, Better Jobs’, also aims at inspiring political, community and media attention and action, as well as encouraging greater awareness and understanding of the need for us to be more responsible towards issues affecting our environment in general and water in particular.

Private sector as players

This is a task which can be achieved by all players in the water sector, both public and private, more so in this time of limited resources, resulting from scarcity of water resources, the private sector clearly has an increasingly important role to play.

For instance, global agricultural food production already accounts for 70 percent of all water withdrawn from rivers and aquifers, and this will be aggravated by the impact of climate change. The private sector players can, therefore, invest in agricultural water management technologies that provide innovative solutions that meet this challenge of feeding a growing population by producing more food but with fewer resources including water.

An example is the success story of modern irrigation of the 20th century by which irrigated farming expanded from 40 million hectares to almost 300 million hectares; a seven-fold increase as the world’s population doubled.

The essence of this piece, though not exhaustive, indicates that water is essential for life since we use water to sustain all life forms and activities like domestic, agriculture, industry, commerce, energy, etc, Moreover, ecosystems require water in order to continue serving as the foundation of our economy and our way of life.

This year’s theme should therefore serve as enough inspiration for us to intensify our commitment and awareness drive at reversing the deterioration of our waters with emphasis on the development of a prevention-based culture and the direct involvement of men, women, children and the youth in a way that they can effectively contribute to resolving the country’s water and sanitation issues.