|| Gender and Water Resources
Lessons Learned and
the Way Forward
Current natural resources of the world are submitted to an increasingly deadly threat created by human impacts, and freshwater is one of the first to be affected. By 2025, the UN estimates that as many as 5.5 billion people, the two thirds of the world’s population, will face a water shortage. The degradation of water quality worsens the imbalance between water supply and demand. It threatens the sustainability of life in an increasing number of regions throughout the world. Lack of access to freshwater for drinking, hygiene and food security inflicts enormous hardship on more than a billion of the human family. Such a situation could become even worse if we continue following the same approaches in water resources use and management.Access to freshwater resources directly influences women’s life. It has an immediate impact on children’s health and on that of the family in general. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 250 million individuals were diagnosed with water borne-diseases at the dawn of the twenty first century (UNICEF/WHO, 2000). Women are most often the collectors, users and managers of water in households as well as the farmers of irrigated crops. Statistically, at least half of the world food is grown by women farmers and it amounts to 80% in some African countries (FAO, 2000). However, women’s A safe water supply and adequate sanitation to protect health are among the basic human rights. Ensuring their availability would contribute immeasurably to health and productively for development. The best approach to protecting the world’s ecosystem is ensuring that women are involved in integrated land and water use planning; the Ministerial Declaration of the 2nd World Water Forum, 2000. Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right. Contaminated water jeoparadizes both the physical and social health of all people. It is an affront to human dignity (UN Secretary General, Khofi Annan, December 12, 2002).
Water is a key operant in our life-support systems. Without water, life would not be possible. Neither human kind, nor any eco-system can function without water.
As seen, a water perspective in today’s world is overwhelmed by two fundamental problems: the continuous growing and expanding problems of pollution, on one hand, and the water scarcity, on the other one. Basically, there is nothing of mysterious with either one: both are related to the deep involvement of water in our natural environment, including the life of flora, fauna and humans.
In fact, the two overwhelming problems are both related to water complex functions together with the integrity of the water cycle. These interrelations are reflected in some fundamental casual chains:
- land use-including land pollution- is transferred into river response which is transferred into coastal water response;
- water availability is finite. This means that population growth in dry climate regions will be reflected in increasing water stress, followed by the risk of environmental migration and political destabilization.
Today, there is poor and incomplete awareness among policy makers, politicians as well as general public about their genuine dependence on water cycle, the uniqueness of water and its basic functions in the natural environment and society. It is also worth noting that different groups of societal actors (engineers, ecologists, farmers and researchers) tend to differ also in their basic water perceptions. Thus the water perspectives are often quite limited and accordingly tend to hide the involvement of water in many societal planning issues related to land use. Consequences of such neglect is the arising of aggravating livelihood problems, the Mediterranean region is now facing, leaving the public to take the risks.
The most important task is to find solutions for the existing problems and to prevent problems from arising. However, for such uneasy task to be realized we need to get understood the following:
- we have to realize the complexity of water and get away from our simplistic ways of addressing it. We have, therefore, to learn to work with systems thinking;
- we have to realize that polluted groundwater cannot be rehabilitated; we will have to live with our polluted aquifers. What we can do is to avoid to pollute them further;
- we have to realize the difference between high and low latitude conditions in our technical assistance and develop ideas, concepts and approaches to address galloping water scarcity and the particular environmental vulnerability in dry climate conditions;
- we have to realize not only land use is water-dependent, which is already well-known, but that is also water-impacting (rainfall on all outdoor activities). Therefore, environmental management is the challenge of finding ways to balance water-dependent land use and water use against water-impacting land use and water use on the landscape scale.
Today there is an urgent requirement to devise strategies for the sustainable use of water resources in the region. I am of the view that the improved understanding of the scientific, technologies, economic and institutional factors underlying freshwater management and use is essential in this respect.
In the region, many fruitful conferences, one followed by another, meetings, discussions and national, regional and international consultation process concerning water resources were effectively and successfully held.
The overall problems are clear. Equally clear is that the scope of the effort required to address them may well have to go beyond the application of current conventional thinking. We will need to be bold in thinking through what sort of long-term strategies to recommend, in addition to the application of the best current practice today. The relevance of particular issues and proposed solutions are difficult to address each country’s priority issues and needs. Nevertheless, certain general principles and strategies for water policy and water sector development can be provided. Effective water policies are to be formulated and adopted in the Mediterranean countries according to the prevailing conditions in each, combined with the political will and commitment, suitable institutional frameworks, and the capacity to make them work.
The Mediterranean countries are currently experiencing rapid demographic, social, cultural, economic and ecological changes. Where will these changes lead? What will be the future of these countries? What are the actions should they care, individually and collectively to face up their growing difficulties? and what are the guiding principles for the implementation of those actions?