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Water is Jobs on World Water Day

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

#Waterisjobs: A women carrying water in rural India

<8 mins read, approx. 780 words

The Hindu 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,  women lead the role in 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 as energy sources into their homes every evening. 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 the society and economy. In just one day, 200 million work hours are consumed, as women collect water for their families. This has graver consequences for the girls, preventing them from attending school or participating in other productive activities. Some women have to walk about 3 miles to collect water on an 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 remote or war-stricken/conflict areas under the constant fear of abuse or attacks, making them even 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 2003. Later, I observed the lack of sustainable infrastructure for water and wastewater management, and the brunt borne by women in the household in several other Indian states through my work.  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 water resources management in the developing countries. This results in the drudgery of women and girls 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 work with 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 public health crisis that the polluted water brought about but also heart breaking because of the exploitation of women and girl child due to potable water scarcity. They had to walk long distances everyday making the girls skip school and spend the entire day carrying water loads from the point source to their households, so as to help their mothers. Local organizations, such as the NEER Foundation, are now working at the forefront to bring clean potable water to this community with the help of International nonprofits, such as the Water Collective, US.

Around the world, women and their families 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.

In conclusion:

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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