Tackling Water Scarcity

This week a conference in Glasgow will discuss global water scarcity.

Scotland is fortunate to have a plentiful supply of fresh water but in other parts of the world where the climate is drier, people do not share this good fortune.

According to the UN Water project,  2.5 billion people, including 1 billion children, live without event basic sanitation. It has been estimated that a child dies every 20 seconds as a result of poor sanitation –  a staggering 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.

I recently visited Bangladesh as part of a voluntary project to look at sanitation issues and saw first hand some of the problems people face.

People, mainly women, face long journeys by foot to collect water from streams and wells.  In the vast majority of cases this water is not hygenic.  Where pump well facilities have been installed to pipe water to local wells, there is not the capacity to keep them maintained and they end up not working.   There is also the lack of purification systems to ensure water drawn from streams can be made safe to use.

Aside from the health impacts of clean water scarcity, there are also wider social implications.  The requirement for women to travel to water sources means that they are unable to use their time more productively, whether to attend school or to find work to support their family.

The impact of climate change has been predicted to make matters worse. In some areas it will heighten water scarcity issues with periods of drought.  In others we will see periods of flooding that will disrupt water quality.  There is also serious problems with pollution in developing countries where 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into water sources.

Projected population growth will put further strain on water supplies, not only for drinking but for irregation of agricultural land that will be required to produce the volume of food required.  Estimates suggest that it takes 2,000-5,000 litres of water to produce one person’s daily food.

The Scottish Government has aspirations to promote Scotland as a Hydro Nation, taking advantage of our expertise and natural resources on the international stage.  As part of that work, the Scottish Government has committed to develop greater focus on water related aid in its work with developing nations.

However the bulk of the UK’s aid comes from the Department for International Development (DFID) so the work of the UK Government in directing investment is crucial.   One of the issues that struck me when I finished my project work in Bangladesh is the lack of local government capacity to raise the investment needed to put local water and roads infrastructure in place which would enable communities to generate income from the produce they grow.  

I hope to raise some of these issues with both the Scottish Government and local MPs to press for greater support to deliver practical solutions to water scarcity, water quality and sanitation challenges around the world.