KIRUKU: Water, Water everywhere, but not a drop for women to drink
Published on: January 14, 2017 12:02 (EAT)
It is unacceptable and unfortunate that water-related causes kill more women than cancer and diabetes, going by the findings of a recent report. Water scarcity is one of the world’s leading problems affecting more than 1.2 billion people globally, meaning that one in every six people lack access to safe drinking water. Some 500 million people are approaching this situation and another 1.6 billion, almost a quarter of the world population, face economic water shortage. Lack of affordable, safe and sufficient water across the EAC region has tremendously increased rates of gender-based violence and the number of girls dropping out of school. Poor families without water have no option but to send their daughters out to collect water, exposing them to violence and forcing them to drop out of school. Lack of sanitation and clean water affects women and girls to a greater extent, thus hampering girl-child education, health, and dignity. Quite often, too, it results in early and needless deaths. It is no wonder that the achievement of many of the Millennium Development Goals hinged on access to water. In recognition of this, MDG 7 on ensuring environmental sustainability captured the issue of water in Target 10: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” It is unfortunate that the MDGs lapsed without fully achieving this crucial goal. Water has now been given greater prominence under the Sustainable Development Goals that succeeded the MDGs, with SDG 6 dedicated exclusively for this purpose: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” The report alluded to earlier, by WaterAid, analysed data from the Institute of Health Metrics Research Centre that shows nearly 800,000 women die every year for lack of safe toilets and clean water. Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon; there is indeed enough freshwater on the planet but this resource is unequally distributed and too much of it ends up being wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed. It is common knowledge that water shortage leads to poverty and social hardships, impedes development, and creates tension in conflict-prone regions. It is unfortunate that the threat of global warming brought about environmental degradation, coupled with massive population growth, has led to increasing pressure on resources such as water. The report says that the only condition more fatal for women than the lack of decent sanitation are heart diseases, stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Across the region, this situation is thoroughly familiar. In Kenya, for example, more than 80 per cent of the land surface is arid and semi-arid with severe water shortages. This inevitably leads to crises and conflicts among communities. Due to lack of water and sanitation, diarrhoea is now the second leading cause of deaths, after pneumonia, in children under five years of age. In Tanzania, where one third of the country is arid to semi-arid, the challenge of water is so immense that during the last general election, water became a major campaign tool among aspirants. It is estimated that over 4,000 children in the country die every year from diarrhoea due to unsafe water and poor sanitation. According to the World Health Organisation, one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water in Tanzania. Quite disheartening is that according to the Tanzania national website, water-borne illnesses such as malaria and cholera account for over half of the diseases affecting the population. The deteriorating effects of climate change – which the world is not showing enough goodwill to tackle – have had a significant impact on fresh water availability, resulting in a global water crisis. At the regional level, one begs to ask why water scarcity is a challenge considering that some of the largest fresh water lakes are located here. Regional citizens should not be suffering water shortages, if only we harnessed and found means of transporting water from areas of high availability to those of scarcity. Lake Tanganyika, which is the greatest reservoir of fresh water on the continent and second deepest in the world, is located in Tanzania. Lake Victoria, which is Africa’s largest lake and the world’s second largest fresh-water lake, is also within the region. The Nile River basin, the source of the River Nile – arguably the longest river in the world – is also located in the region. The EAC partner states, must come together and solve these perennial challenges of water through building the necessary infrastructure for harvesting, storing and transporting water. Protecting ecosystems underpinning the region’s water towers is also not an option; it is now an imperative.