Today, the figures are still horrific: 663 million people do not have reasonable access to safe drinking water and nearly 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services (toilets or latrines). Besides, 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases.
The impact of these figures is devastating to health and quality of life for many people, especially the poorest. However, it is sad to see that sometimes water and sanitation are still not top priorities for some African governments, despite overwhelming evidence that a country’s development and people’s wellbeing depends on efficient use of water. Therefore, it is crucial to act and to implement strong measures: let us remind that it is not only a human and social matter! It is also an economic one: for instance, people who will not have access to toilets at work and at home will have poorer health leading to absenteeism, reduced concentration, exhaustion and decreased productivity!
The best way to push water and sanitation up to the political agenda is to find an obvious way to link water to development. This is why Goal 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for clean water and sanitation for all. That SDG has 8 major targets to reach by 2030. Among them we find a commitment to “protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes”. That commitment is not something that people (and by extent governments) should consider as redundant. Indeed, water scarcity must be considered as a top priority risk: it is at the same time a major constraint to socio-economic development of nations, a growing problem for businesses, and a threat to growth and stability on a global scale. Thus, it is far from being a minor problem!
This is the reason why it is inconceivable to act with short-term financial interest as only goal and not to look on consequences on the environment and water conservation. For instance, water is critical for successful climate change mitigation, as many efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depend on reliable access to water resources. Besides, if we want to think in an economic way, increasing water conservation (which means getting to the source of the problem) would reduce the need for infrastructure to be erected to get water. Let’s tackle deforestation and urbanization! It will also result to less money spent on healthcare for water pollution-related illnesses.
We have a long way to go before the water scarcity problems are solved across the globe but it is our strategic interest to act now, on our continent. Programs such as the UN’s Sustainable Development goal for sustainable management of water and sanitation or COP22 are a huge step in the direction of water conservation for all. I urge all the stakeholders to gather to get things done, now. Water is not a secondary matter : it is a social, human, and economic issue. It is crucial for our development.