WORLD WATER DAY

Valuing water critical in achieving sanitation demands

The pandemic has taught us is that water, sanitation and hand hygiene, together with physical distancing, are central to preventing the spread of Covid-19

In Summary

• This year’s Water Day theme; Valuing Water, is all about our personal connection with water.

• It is about how water is important in your life and critical to your survival.

Valuing water critical in achieving sanitation demands
Valuing water critical in achieving sanitation demands
Image: OZONE

Water stress and scarcity are likely to intensify in the future, particularly in developing countries that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, if we do not value water.

With only 59 per cent of Kenyans having access to basic water services and only 29 per cent with access to sanitary services, it is paramount for us to look ahead. This is because over the next decade, urban population is projected to triple, adding more pressure to water access.

Without improvements in water access, the sanitation environment will worsen as water and sanitation go hand in hand. Therefore, without a clean, safe source of water nearby, it is nearly impossible for communities to have adequate sanitation facilities or practice good hygiene.

Similarly, without proper sanitation and hygiene, safe water will become contaminated and water projects will no longer work to improve health. If there is no deliberate and collective effort to reflect on first, the importance of water and secondly leverage on this understanding to guide us in making meaningful decisions towards sustainable management practices, we may not know true value of water.

As we celebrate the 2021 World Water Day, let us take good time in to reflect where we are, where we are headed towards vis-à-vis where we want to go and how water will help us in achieving our goals. This year’s theme; Valuing Water, is all about our personal connection with water. It is about how water is important in your life and critical to your survival.

Covid-19 pandemic has upended our lives. These are unprecedented times we are living in.

But a key learning point that the pandemic has taught us is that water, sanitation and hand hygiene, together with physical distancing, are central to preventing the spread of Covid-19. It is the first line of defence against this serious threat to lives and health systems.

More than ever before, everyone now has an individual responsibility of ensuring they wash their hands with water and soap to kill the virus. The situation demands we have continuous access to clean water as our first level defence against the virus.

This gives us a better perspective on the value of water and why we need to have robust systems to protect and expand our water sources and come with better ways of managing the scarce resource.

Therefore, value of water should not be misconstrued to mean the real price of purchasing water, because the value goes beyond monetary value.

Water has enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment.

In most parts of the country, water issues are still gendered and use of this scarce resource is culturally categorised. Hygiene is to some extent ritualised and bound by taboos where some adults with special ranks are not allowed to share latrines with children. In some areas hand washing with soap is limited or non-existence.

These cultural alignments define the position of water in our lives and could have profound impact on not only our healthcare but also our priorities on investing in water infrastructure.

A healthy ecosystem supports livelihoods both on land and in water. Think of plant and animal survival as well as survival of human beings largely dependent accessibility of quality water and air.

Good environmental management is critical to the success of water and sanitation programmes where waste treatment relies heavily on natural processes.

Therefore, water and sanitation need to be managed as economic goods, which are an important way of achieving efficient and equitable applications, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources.

According to WHO, the economic benefits of investing in water and sanitation are considerable: They include an overall estimated gain of 1.5 per cent of global GDP and a Sh430 return for every dollar invested in water and sanitation services, due to reduced healthcare costs for individuals and society, and greater productivity and involvement in the workplace through better access to facilities.

In the existing climate where poverty reduction strategies dominate the development agenda, the potential productivity and income effects of improved access are a significant argument to support further resource allocations to water and sanitation infrastructure.

If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource.

Let us use this day to not only celebrate World Water Day, but also to create forums that raise awareness on the need to value water to support initiatives aimed at achievement of SDG 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.

The writer is the general manager for Reckitt Benckiser (RB) in East Africa