FARHANA HAQUE RAHMAN | 22 MARCH, 2016
Water scarcity is already a clear and present danger, and it is the innocent, particularly women and children, who are harmed most. When we are inundated with information about water it’s easy to become desensitized. World Water Day on March 22nd gives us an opportunity to reflect on the one simple truth: water is life.
85 percent of the world’s population lives in the driest half of the planet; almost as many do not have access to adequate sanitation. Every year, 6 to 8 million of our fellow humans die due to water-related diseases and disasters. One in seven people on the planet lack access to safe drinking water. Increasingly intense and frequent El Ninos and La Ninas are intensifying droughts and flooding on opposite corners of the earth.
Where water is scarce, and where poverty is clear, women and children bare the primary responsibility for water collection to accomplish the most basic of family needs. On average, in Africa and Asia, they walk 3.7 miles a day just to collect water. In some parts of the world, water collection takes 6 hours a day – globally, women spend 125 million hours a day collecting. If they do not, their probability of survival begins to fade – water is the foundation of all of their needs.
Globally, freshwater resources are diminishing, but our demands for water continue to rise, putting added pressures on governments to find ways to continue to provide for their people.
Through a wider lens, these facts show the impact of fresh water scarcity on larger groups of people. 70 percent of fresh water consumption is currently attributed to agricultural demands; in faster growing economies, it accounts for almost 90 percent. Fresh water resources, often shared between national borders, are diminishing, and their value has a political impact of Machiavellian intrigue. As recently as 2015, in the arid landscape of the Middle East, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, to cite a few have militarily targeted water supply facilities in order to advance their agendas.
In the northern city of Aleppo, Syria, where fighting has crippled the main pumping station for months at a time, UNICEF has recorded 18 deliberate water cuts this year alone. Taps in some communities were left dry for up to 17 days in a row – and for over a month in some areas of the city. In the same time-frame, we have seen conflict over water between the Ukraine and Russia, Iran and Afghanistan, and witnessed fatal disputes in Columbia, Somalia and Mexico.
Between refugee camps on borders and peoples isolated by military campaigns, women and children continue to look for and collect water. It is more and more difficult for them to do so in alarmingly insecure environments. Jordan, one of the driest countries in the world, is running out of water. With 600,000 Syrian refugees camped in the northern part of the country, pressure on its already over-stretched resources is immense. And as these conflicts continue to spread, the innocent will always continue to suffer. Their coming lives will be dictated by the erosion of our environment, population growth, rapid urbanization, and the decisions made by those in ivory towers. For them, it is time for all of us to act.
(Inter Press Service)