Let's drink to job creation

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World Water Day, 2016, has applied focus on how our main natural resource underpins and connects our pursuit of growth and development.

There is no life without water. The fact that access to water underpins all our efforts to achieve sustainable development is clear. What is not so often said is that the availability and sustainable management of water has a clear and direct link with the creation of quality jobs.

~ Guy Rider, ILO DIrector-General; Chair, UN-Water

World Water Day, observed on March 22, highlights this relationship under the 2016 theme, “Water and Jobs”.

Well, of course, when a substance comprises 71% of your known world, it will have a strong link with the labour that you perform to earn your living in your known world. The essential thing to remember, though, is that while water is in such abundance, it is simultaneously also a scarce commodity when it comes to distribution of the resource.

We have, on our planet, around 367 quintillion gallons of water.

Still, only about 2.5% of the world's water resources is freshwater. The rest is saltwater and ocean-based.

Only a staggering 1 per cent is available as potable drinking water.

Today, around 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity.

And by 2025, almost 1.8 billion people — a third of the world — will be facing acute water scarcity even as two-thirds of the world is expected to be living under water-stressed conditions, according to UN statistics.

Be it in agriculture...

^ A shepherd walks on the bed of the dried up Gandipet on the outskirts of Hyderabad on March 21, 2016. | K.V.S. Giri

... industry...

^ Water is sprayed at a coal pier of Lianyungang port, Jiangsu province, in this February 26, 2012 file photo. | Reuters

... sanitation...

^ In this March 1, 2016 photo, a young worker washes cow meat in floodwater at the entrance of a slaughter house in Carrefour, Haiti. | AP

... or just water for human consumption, access to H20 is key to socio-economic stability. Around two-thirds — 4 billion — of the world's population faces water scarcity for at least one month during the year. Half of those suffering water scarcity belong to either India or China.

Human — and animal — settlements have historically formed around the water-food-shelter nexus. So, it is access to water that has driven and shaped most of civilisation and evolution.

^ A macaque monkey drinks water from a puddle at a zoo in Zhengzhou, Henan province June 16, 2009. Picture taken June 16, 2009. | Reuters

The trouble begins when we, with our own actions — with climate change, displacement due to war, socioeconomic inequality — render ourselves unable to access our core resource and suffer from water stress.

Water stress is when fresh water suffers deterioration. Either in terms of quantity, thanks to...

^ Drilling equipment on an almond farm in California. Those who can afford to are drilling deeper, hoping to tap new aquifers, but those new wells threaten depletion and water disputes. | New York Times

... aquifer overexploitation, where excessive drilling and mining depletes the underground waterbed level,...

^ A horse walks at Tisma lagoon, one of 78 natural reserves that are under official protection in Nicaragua. | Reuters

... or dry river beds caused by drought, or increased pollution...

...And in terms of quality, thanks to

^ An earthmover removes hyacinth weed growth and garbage from a canal in Tiruchi. | R.M. Rajarathinam

... eutrophication, which is the lethal build-up of algae on the surface of a natural waterbody — thanks to the release of fertilisers or sewage into it — that robs the water of oxygen and kills the organisms that depend on it,...

^ Textile processing units in Erode continue to dump huge amount of untreated, toxic effluents in water. | Photo:M.Govarthan

... organic matter pollution, through the dumping of toxic waste and pollutants freely into waterbodies... or saline intrusion, which occurs mostly in coastal areas, where seawater and freshwater sources get mixed, rendering the water unpotable.

Given that we are prone to destroying sources of our key life-giving element, we need to invest all the more heavily in technologies that mitigate this depletion.

^ Water being purified by increasing dissolved oxygen content at the Kapaleeswarar temple tank, Mylapore in Chennai on January 28, 2016. | Photo: The Hindu / B.Jothi Ramalingam

Rainwater harvesting and water recycling are two crucial processes that can be done at the household level, and go a long way in building healthy and self-sufficient communities.

A job to do

In keeping with spirit of "Water and Jobs, 2016", it is important to realise that we lose so many jobs, so many hours of productivity, as a consequence of having poor access to water, poor water management and lack of sanitation.

^ Somalian women collect water from shallow wells dug along the Shabelle riverbed, which is dry due to drought, on Saturday, March 19, 2016. | Reuters

Imagine if these women — among the 1.5 billion people who undertake water-related work without basic protection under labour rights — didn't have to spend hours everyday walking to and from the distant watering hole? And could instead spend their energies tending to their homes, fields or — better yet — educate themselves to gain skills for higher-paying jobs?

Water the bridge that connects all our problems

On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation were essential to the realisation of all human rights.

Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth — these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.

~ Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, in 2010

This is what the Central Water Commission's report 'Reassessment of Water Resources Potential of India', claimed in 1993...

Availability of water has been taken for granted till recently. It is so no more. The rapid growth in population, coupled with increasing economic activities, has put a tremendous pressure on the available water resources.

... If this was a couple decades back, when India's population was a third of what it is today, imagine the urgency now.

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