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Water is Jobs on World Water Day 2016

March 22, 2016
#Waterisjobs: A women carrying water in rural India

#Waterisjobs: A women carrying water in rural India

The Hindus festival of colors, ‘Holi’ , coincided with the ‘World Water Day’ this year. The UN International Day of Forest was also celebrated yesterday with the theme, Forest and Water.  The event entitled “Forests and Water | Sustain Life and Livelihoods” being organized today, is to raise awareness of the interconnections between forests and water and their contributions to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In developing countries, such as India, women carry the lead role in the knowledge around quality, location, reliability and storage of local water resources. They are also tasked with the collection of wood and other materials from the forests for fuel to cook and bring light into their homes in the evenings. The role of women becomes important, especially in the off-grid Last Mile Communities (LMCs) and Base of Pyramid (BoP) populations.

On an average, women spend more time than men collecting, storing and protecting their water source. This takes their time away from the ability to learn, earn and contribute in other ways to their households and ultimately to their society. In just one day, 200 million work hours are consumed as women collect water for their families. This has graver consequences for the girl child, preventing many young girls from attending school or participating in other productive activities. Some women have to walk about 3 miles to collect water on average in not only the rural or desert states but also in the towns/urban slums. Collecting water can also be dangerous, especially for girls and women who live in war-stricken/conflict areas with the fears of abuse or attacks, making them more vulnerable.

My recollection of a woman’s struggle for clean water goes back to the time when I started working for Janhit Foundation in Meerut in 2003.  It continued until my last year of working in India in 2011, when I was working for WWF India’s Living Ganga Program under HSBC Climate Partnership. It still goes on as I keep reading about the grim situation of dwindling groundwater supply, polluted aquifers as well as poor watershed management in the developing countries. This results in the drudgery of women furthermore.

In towns like Meerut in Uttar Pradesh state of India, the day of a woman and/or girl in a household, starts with water and ends with water.  During my time at Janhit Foundation, we studied the Dabal Community, in an urban slum known as ‘Jai Bheem Nagar’. The findings were not only startling in terms of the public health havoc being played by the polluted water and dangerous surroundings but also heart breaking in terms of the exploitation of the women and girl child in the face of unavailability of potable water. They had to travel long distances everyday making the girls skip the school and spend the entire day carrying water load from the point source to their households so as to help their mothers. Local organizations, such as the NEER Foundation, are now bearing the torch to bring clean potable water to this community with the help of International nonprofits, such as water collective.

In the last days of my working in India, I went to work in the city of Kanpur in U.P. The situation remained grim there too, in terms of clean and safe water availability to the women and girl child. The industrial pollution is ubiquitous in Kanpur. This forces the women to rely on the daily municipal water supply. Where water is not available through a supply pipeline, the story repeats itself once again for the women and girl child.

In the United States, we have seen people, especially kids, in Flint, Newark, and likely other communities poisoned by lead because of an aging water infrastructure. In the desert Southwest and California, we face shrinking aquifers from years of drought and over withdrawals for agriculture and other uses. Along the East Coast, many communities, from Miami to Norfolk to New York, are at risk from the trifecta of devastating sea-level rise, storm surge, and subsidence that could put large swaths of these regions under water even longer than Hurricane Sandy did a few years ago.

Around the world, communities face similar problems and risks:

  • water too polluted for drinking or bathing,
  • children who die prematurely from water-borne diseases, and
  • entire regions in peril from either too much or too little water.

From Michigan to Mogadishu to Uttar Pradesh, we live in a world less prepared than ever to address the challenges of water contamination, scarcity, and flooding.

There is light at the end of tunnel though. The White House is hosting a Water Summit to mark the World Water Day 2016. As part of the event, a number of “commitments” to water are being made. One of the featured organizations, The Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) is making two commitments, listed on the White House fact sheet.

March is an important month as there are so many international days of significance, including International Women’s Day, International Day of Forests and last but not the least ‘World Water Day’. The effort of ridding the women and society of this drudgery should be a conscious, collective and continuous effort, not to be left only to a day or two in the month of March but to be continued every day of the year. The efforts made by all the above organizations and many more shall go a long way in achieving this goal.

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