Forestalling a looming water stress

  By G.D. Zaney

Water security has become a major issue of global concern as water supplies face increasing pressures from a growing population, climate change and an embattled food system.

Currently, 87 per cent of the world’s population has access to improved drinking water sources while 748 million still live without access to these improved sources.

With existing indicators hardly addressing the safety and reliability of water supplies—and   with 2.5 billion people currently lacking access to improved sanitation and over one billion still practicing open defecation, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for sanitation at current rates of progress, is bound to be missed by over half a billion people.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), forty-seven per cent of the global population could be living under severe water stress by the year 2050.

This is because the  earth’s most valuable resource —fresh water— is being indiscriminately and rapidly polluted and depleted, with severe consequences for both the present and, more particularly, future generations.

This means that unless water and land resources are managed more effectively in the present decade and beyond than they have been in the past, human health and welfare, food security, industrial development and the ecosystems on which they depend, are all at risk.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO/Hutton, 2012), for every $1 USD spent on water and sanitation, there is an economic return of $4 USD.

There is, therefore, the need for concerted actions to reverse the present trends of overconsumption, pollution, and rising threats from droughts and floods.

The 1992 Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro unanimously adopted Agenda 21, a blueprint for sustainable development while the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 55/2 outlined 8 targets aimed at reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development

Furthermore, the World Summit on Sustainable Development reaffirmed the commitment to Agenda 21 and MDGs.

Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The health and conservation of ecosystems such as fresh water bodies and forests is, therefore, essential for Ghana’s sustainable Socio-economic development.

Sustainability requires limits on consumption levels of fresh water as well as limits on population because the bigger the population, the bigger the stress on freshwater ecosystems.

Again, the role of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) can hardly be overemphasized in ensuring public health, which is key to sustainable socio-economic development.

Globally, water-related diseases are the second leading cause of death for children under-five years.

Water resources need, therefore, to be secure and utilized for an improved public health as well as greater equity and social inclusion.

On the other hand, Agriculture is a major user of both ground and surface water for irrigation—accounting for about 70 per cent of water withdrawal worldwide.

Regrettably, efforts to protect both the quantity and quality of the water have not yielded the desired results.

It has, therefore been recommended that a set of  actions be implemented at local, national and international levels, based on the four guiding principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), namely that fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment; that water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels; that women should play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water; and that water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.

These four, known as the Dublin principles, provided vital input to the June 1992 Rio UN Conference on Environment and Development, (UNCED) during which the celebration of the World Water Day was recommended and subsequently instituted in 1993 by the UN General Assembly to annually focus attention on the importance of freshwater and advocate the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

It has also been recommended that to ensure sustainable water development, government, policy makers, planners, industrialists and society, as a whole, should properly co-ordinate ecological approaches with the economic and social approaches to achieve a steady and accelerated economic development; higher living standards; improvement in public health; improvement in ecosystem health; strict law enforcement on natural resources conservation; and environmental protection.

Other recommendations are that multilateral agreements and global funding should be devoted to the protection and conservation of freshwater bodies, including transboundary river systems; conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, instead of outright exploitation and the promotion of ways to re-use and recycle waste from one production process as inputs in another process to prevent build-up of waste in the environment.

The others are the implementation of the National Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) policy and the development and enforcement of progressive public policy on water extraction and the monitoring of ground water.

In all these, the role of the Water Resources Commission (WRC) cannot be overemphasized.

WRC was established by an Act of Parliament (Act 522 of 1996) as the overall body responsible for water resources management in Ghana, with a mission to regulate and manage the sustainable utilization of water resources and to co-ordinate related policies in relation to them by combining our core competencies and hard work through effective participation, monitoring and awareness creation for the socio-economic development of Ghana.

The writer is an Information Officer, Information Services Department.