Opinion

Sustainable development through better water governance


Published : 26 Oct 2021 08:43 PM | Updated : 27 Oct 2021 02:38 PM

Earlier this year in March a discussion took place in the United Nations framework about the factors related to water governance, the role that available data plays in this regard and also about how the lack of safe drinking water can affect the matrix of socio-economic development.  In this context there was emphasis on the fact that delivering on Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) and guaranteeing water and sanitation for all would be a win across the board. Water, it was agreed, is both an economic good and an SDG accelerator, facilitating progress on each of the other SDGs.

The current estimates suggest: that - nearly 2.2 billion of the global population continue to lack access to safely managed drinking water; that about 4.2 billion people, more than half of the planet’s population live without safely managed sanitation; that approximately 2 billion people do not have a decent toilet of their own; and that at least 3 billion of the world’s population lack basic hand washing facilities even in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Consequently there is general consensus that the global acceleration framework on the Sustainable Development Goals 6: Water and Sanitation would be an important step in the right direction because  there is need to develop and strengthen capacity, need to optimize and scale our finances, need to improve mainstream data and also to foster and replicate innovation. 


We have to understand that our 

struggle for better water governance 

is about dignity. It is also about 

the creation of equal opportunity


Read More: How the developing world can survive the climate crisis

Dr. David Kramer, a Professor of Hydrology in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA also did not hesitate to remind the international institutions and representatives of the civil society that nearly 2.5 billion people around the world depend solely on groundwater for their basic water needs.

The connotation of such a comment was that lack of systemic communication on data information on ground water can become one of the significant impediments to its sound management and governance. This equation has gained greater cognizance because 153 countries apparently have transboundary groundwater systems and expected lack of progress related to solution of this important equation might affect support of future international stability.

Professor Kramer also correctly pointed out the many ways how surface water can be affected by changes in the groundwater paradigm. This may be caused in relatively dry lands due to over-pumping or climate change. This situation can then diminish or eradicate springs and wells that have been dependent on for millennia by both people and groundwater dependent ecosystems. This lack of knowledge about groundwater, especially of poor quality groundwater, could consequently translate to serious effects on the health of those using it.

At this point we need to remember that in this age of climate variability and the continuing pandemic- water is the basis of all life. Without water we have no health, wealth, equality, or education.

Consequently, in developed as well as in comparatively poorer countries and in developing countries prioritizing water governance and ensuring data collection and investment in groundwater use are some of the key issues that need to be addressed with regard to achieving development goals. If this is not done on a non-political basis, it, most certainly might affect the “Implementation of the Water-related Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda”.

It also needs to be mentioned here that, correctly, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Malik of ANEW, an Organization looking after African women and girls have also supported the importance of women and the youth population being associated with the monitoring of the management of ground water and also the available use of surface water. This was well received because recent reports have indicated that African women and girls spend 200 million hours or more collecting water. This takes place because in most of the countries in Africa, as in South Asia, women lack equality in terms of human rights and are locked in a life of ill health and poverty. There have been continuing reports in the media of girls and women being forced to continue the time-consuming, back-breaking work of fetching water, and also being left exposed to the indignity and dangers of going to the toilet in fields and streets.

We need to understand that access to water and sanitation can free up time that is otherwise being spent collecting water. UN-Water estimates that improved sanitation gives every household an additional one thousand hours a year to work, study, and care for children, and so on. Women’s productivity is particularly affected, as they are the main caretakers and manager and users of water. Both India and Bangladesh are now taking necessary measures in this regard- particularly in the rural areas.

One should also remember that safe water and sanitation services in schools and workplaces will also create the facility that would ensure that girls and women can manage their personal hygiene while not missing out on obtaining an education or earning an income.

After careful analysis, the World Bank has observed that governments in general- be it in Latin America or Central America or Africa or South Asia- do not adequately prioritize and invest in clean water. There is absence of commitment.

One has to also carefully monitor how Sanitation and Water for All- the global platform for achieving the required levels of availability of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related targets are being implemented across the world- particularly in poorer and low-income countries. The attention of the Finance Ministers of these countries should also be drawn to the potential that exists pertaining to economic growth and sustainable development, through the expansion of water and sanitation services. Strategic economists have, in this regard, outlined that with the right level of investment, benefits could include an estimated 1.5 per cent growth in gross domestic product and a possible US Dollar 4.30 return for every US Dollar invested. This is likely to take place because of subsequent reduced health care costs and the creation of potential for increased productivity.

One can see how such strategic investment has brought benefits to South Korea. It may be recalled that in 1961, only 17% of South Korea had access to basic drinking water but by 2012, water coverage stood at 98% – a remarkable turnaround. Today, it is almost 100%. This has greatly enhanced the denotations associated with a better lifestyle in that country. This is also true of Japan. Both now belong to the Group of Developed countries. Affordable, reliable, easily accessible water and sanitation services in these countries have prevented children from preventable diseases, such as diarrhea and cholera. Healthier children absorb nutrients properly, develop stronger brains and bodies, get better school results, and end up making a fuller contribution to society.

 We all have to understand that required investment in such vulnerable areas will reduce disease burden and epidemic risks, and slow down fast-moving killers such as cholera. Improved hygiene — through water and soap — will also play the required critical role in the fight against COVID-19. Necessary investments will also add to the level of workforce productivity as millions of jobs that make up the global workforce are either heavily or moderately dependent on water.

 Some analysts have nevertheless pointed out that all these suggestions, if they are to be implemented, will require considerable funds. This should not however hold us back.

We need to remember here that economic growth rests on improving educational achievement and public health — two things that are impossible without access to water. In this context one also needs to understand that this transformative scenario can be achieved through good governance that is accountable and transparent.

If governments fail to help prioritize water and sanitation, the consequences could affect societies for generations. As such, financial decision-makers need to create an enabling environment by investing in institutions and people, and mobilizing new sources of finance, such as taxes, tariffs, transfers, or repayable finance. We must all realize that a well-resourced, well-run water system can definitely be a catalyst for progress in every sector from gender, food, and education, to health, industry, and the environment.

We have to understand that our struggle for better water governance is about dignity. It is also about the creation of equal opportunity. In addition, it is about our health and our ability to survive. Neglecting the provision of these services, according to Volkan Bozkir, will be a kind of moral failure that will most certainly stunt the growth of our economies, populations, and societies.

Impact of climate variability will also affect not only the creation of job opportunities but also definitely result in internal migration from rural areas to urban areas. This dynamics will in turn have an osmotic effect on the surrounding regions.


Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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