| Addressing the challenges of water: A perspective from Sustainable Development Goals.
Mayanglambam Ojit Kumar Singh
Theoretical biologists and the experimental ones have proven time and again that living organisms evolved in the watery medium. Every metabolic activities in living organisms take place in a watery medium which again proves that living organisms cannot do any of the living process in the absence of water whether in the poles or in the equator, tropic or the sub tropical, mountains or the oceans..
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, are an intergovernmental set of aspiration Goals with 169 targets. It has 17 concrete Goals. SDGs are unthinkable without considering the conservation, proper distribution, awareness and significance of water. Goal number 6, 14 and 15 need special mention in the present discourse of the water as an important resource in light of the narratives of sustainable development.
Picture: The 17 Goals of Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal number 6 states about the Water and Sanitation - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Goal number 14 is about the Oceans - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development Targets.
Goal number 15 is about the Biodiversity, Forests, Deforestation - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss Targets.
WASH experts have stated that without progress on Goal 6, the other goals and targets will not be able to be achieved. WASH is the collective term for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. While each is a separate field of work, each is dependent on the presence of the other. As for example, without toilets, water sources become contaminated; without clean water, basic hygiene practices are not possible.
In the situation when the requirement and the demand of water is increasing the supply and the availability is becoming seriously challenging .The availability of fresh water on earth is limited, and its quality is under constant pressure. . Even though there is disagreement among experts on the absolute scarcity of water, in most places in the world it is not always available where it is needed, when it is needed, and in the quantity and quality in which it is needed. The supply and the distribution of this resource has become a serious ecologically and politically contesting topic all the world.
Whenever NASA releases a picture of the probable finding of water in the other planets of the solar system we feel happy and excited to imagine about the probable finding of theliving beings or the probable chances of extending our habitation there! Provisioning of the water sustainably and maintaining the quality and quantity at the same time are needed for human life and supports natural systems, now and into the future. On the water-quality front, controlling nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen produced by human activities is a growing priority to prevent the cultural eutrophication and Stalinization. Higher levels of nutrients are altering the ecological balance of receiving water bodies and natural areas. Industrial pollution of water is also a major concern, especially in emerging economies of the world such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
Besides food production, water sustainability is also closely linked to the energy sustainability issue. Water is critical for cooling purposes for our mostly fossil-fuel based power plants. Desalination, which is increasingly the alternative of choice for meeting growing water needs in many parts of the world, is highly capital and energy intensive. So is flood control, which requires pumping at huge diesel-based pump stations. Hydropower, which has a myriad of ecological challenges, also plays a key role in the overall energy production in many parts of the world.
Water issues present daunting challenges, considering the ever-increasing competing needs, e.g., agriculture, industry and the environment. In addition, more and more people in the developing world are flocking to urbanized areas that are ill-prepared to address their increasing water needs. Given the increasing competing demands and the economic, climatic, and political uncertainties a serious key question for water managers is how can we plan for and adapt to meet our water resources needs.
Here in the following paragraphs a view on the linkages of water as a precious resource and some Goals of the SDGs is being shared.
Sustainable Development Goal Number 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Goal Number 6 has the following targets
By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management
Sustainable Management of Water:
Sustainable management of water has a direct influence on the food security and health of the people. FAO is the custodian agency for the indicators of SDG Target 6.4, and supports its monitoring through the AQUASTAT programme (AQUASTAT is FAO's global water information system, developed by the Land and Water Division.) Effective and sustainable investments in water for poverty reduction which aims at improving food security and reducing rural poverty of smallholder farmers through providing guidance and technical support to enhance the quality, impact and sustainability of agricultural water management investments has been taken up as a serious priority programme for FAO. On 21 March, 2016, in Rome, FAO launched a new programme aiming to enhance the critical role of forests in improving water quality and water supplies, on the occasion of the UN's International Day of Forests. The programme, focused specifically on the close relationship between forests and water, will start off by looking at ways to improve water security in eight West African countries: Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra-Leone.
Water sustainability issues and the probable solutions of the same will, first and foremost, require innovative thinking fueled by a political will and a common understanding that, despite the competing interests, this is a problem of shared challenges and responsibilities. Alternatives such as artificial aquifer recharge, desalination, increased water use efficiency, water re-use, rainwater harvesting, and inter-basin transfers have shown to be effective in many places in the world. Global and national programmes should direct the multi dimensional issues and the problems of water which is the blue gold for the present century.
Water supply Vs Sanitation and hygiene development:
Photo showing people collecting drinking water from a local pond. Photo credit: www.e-pao.net
Water And Biodiversity:
Goal Number 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals has the following targets.
By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements
By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally
By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world
By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development
Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species
Promote fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and promote appropriate access to such resources, as internationally agreed
Take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products
By 2020, introduce measures to prevent the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive alien species on land and water ecosystems and control or eradicate the priority species
Mobilize and significantly increase financial resources from all sources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems
Mobilize significant resources from all sources and at all levels to finance sustainable forest management and provide adequate incentives to developing countries to advance such management, including for conservation and reforestation
Enhance global support for efforts to combat poaching and trafficking of protected species, including by increasing the capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable livelihood opportunities
Water is so essential for life that living beings on planet Earth cannot survive without it. It is a prerequisite for human health and well-being as well as for the preservation of the environment. The theme Water and Biodiversity was chosen to coincide with the United Nations designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. Designation of IDB 2013 on the theme of water provides Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the public at large the opportunity to raise awareness about this vital issue, and to increase positive action. The period 2005-2015 was celebrated as International Decade for Action 'WATER FOR LIFE'.
Inland Waters are very important for preserving, protecting and conserving Biodiversity. However, inland water ecosystems are often extensively modified by humans, more so than marine or terrestrial systems, and are amongst the most threatened ecosystem types of all. Physical alteration, habitat loss and degradation, water withdrawal, overexploitation, pollution and the introduction of invasive alien species are the main threats to these ecosystems and their associated biological resources. Water is a finite and an irreplaceable resource which is fundamental to human well-being. It can help create paid and decent jobs. It is only renewable if well managed. All freshwater ultimately depends on the continued healthy functioning of ecosystems, and recognizing the water cycle as a biophysical process is essential to achieving sustainable water management.
The wetlands are so uniquely related with the culture and livelihood activities of the people living in and around them .Hence they are essential for human health and prosperity, and the benefits they provide have enormous economic and social value. As confirmed by the 2013 report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Water and Wetlands, which we are proud to have contributed to, the ecosystem services provided by wetlands, on a per unit area basis, are the most valuable of all of our ecosystem types.
Picture: Loktak Lake of Manipur. Wetland is the source of livelihood, habitats of huge biodiversity and provider of many ecosystem services. Photo credit: rupes.worldagroforestry.org
The importance of the inland waters is meaningfully described by the very religious quote which goes as , "By means of water, we give life to everything" .Life as we know it can exist without all other resources, but without water it can neither survive nor evolve making it the most precious resource for all of us. A small fraction of water available on Earth as fresh water supports a stunningly and disproportionately high level of biodiversity, which includes not only life living within water, but that which depends upon inland water habitat.
Inland water biodiversity is critically important to poverty reduction and the achievement of human development targets. The direct use of inland water biodiversity (e.g., for inland fisheries) provides food security for countless millions of the world's poor. Moreover, the broader ecosystem services provided by inland water biodiversity, such as climate regulation, flood mitigation, nutrient recycling, water purification and waste treatment, are critical to human welfare and development. Inland water biodiversity is critical to the achievement of most, if not all, of the Millennium Development Goals and their targets. For example: lack of access to safe drinking water is an indicator of poverty - groundwater supplies drinking water to an estimated 1.5-3 billion people – and in most areas groundwater is recharged through functioning wetlands; therefore sustaining its supply is a biodiversity-related issue (and the same could be said for sustaining groundwater-dependent ecosystems such as forests and agricultural areas). Similarly, the remainder of the world's population relies on surface water – also maintained, to a large degree, by functioning freshwater ecosystems.
Inland water ecosystems services:
- Provisioning of food, fibre, medicines.
- Pollution and nutrient absorption and recycling, flood management. drinking water supply and recharge of underground water.
- Mitigation against the impacts of natural catastrophes and climate change.
Economic importance of the wetlands is estimated to be of $15 trillion (over three times the value of global forest ecosystem services, which is $4.7 trillion).Wetlands, such as mangroves and river floodplains, play a very significant role in mitigating the impacts of extreme weather events (and natural catastrophes such as Tsunamis).It is generally understood that removing the existing pressures on wetlands and improving their resilience is the most effective method of coping with the adverse effects of climate change.
It is frightening that the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems is declining faster than for any other biome. Tremendous changes are expected in world freshwater resources and hence in the ecosystem services provided by freshwater systems. Managing these changes is critical to human well-being. The growth of human populations has been the primary indirect drivers of change leading to the loss of inland waters biodiversity have been. The inland wetlands have been also the receptacles of the wastes that are released in many of the terrestrial ecosystems too.
What needs to be done to sustainably use the wetland resources is a critical issue today. It is going to be difficult because of the ever increasing demands placed upon water by multiple stakeholders. Indeed it is not going to be an easy task but which cannot be compromised. Those who are directly and indirectly impacting negatively upon the health of the wetland ecosystems must be made to recognize that the sustainable use of inland water biodiversity is their responsibility also. Flexibly good governance and institutions, and the political and legal mandates they provide, underpin the successful implementation of all response options. Addressing the drivers of loss of inland water biodiversity must be taken up seriously by valuing
To solve the water sustainability problem, many ideas and proposals can be taken with proper scrutiny. Political leaders and society must care about solving the problem. Support of the public, academic and nongovernmental organizations must be welcomed. Sustainable water resources must be taken up as a journey .Transparent, trans boundary and resilient solutions must be found out and discussed.
Let us strive to provide water to all for all before the wells run dried.