World Water Day 2013: Treating water as a blessing and managing water-related disaster

The world water day, commemorated world-wide, gives an opportunity to reflect on the importance of fresh water and promote feasible ways to manage its resources. The significance of freshwater availability lies in the fact that its scarcity has negative impact on human health and overall economy. Water scarcity can be defined in many ways but it usually occurs when the demand of all sectors cannot be satisfied by the supply of available water institutionally. Many analysts, research groups and intelligence agencies argue that the main reason for future conflicts and wars amongst nations and influential corporations will be declining freshwater resources. According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, water scarcity is one of the key challenges that need to be addressed as 47% of world’s population will be living in high water stress areas by 2030. Unsustainable management of freshwater resources, rapid population growth, increasing industrial demands, escalating demands of food production as well as electricity production and climate change are the key factors causing water scarcity.

According to a report entitled ‘’Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan’’ issued by the US Senate in 2011, many countries in Central and South Asia, specially Pakistan and Afghanistan, will witness regional instability as a result of water scarcity. The US has been investing millions of dollars in water related activities in Central and South Asia to promote water security and expand water storage capabilities and irrigation. Neglecting the management of water resources can disturb neighbouring countries causing tension and regional instability. Similarly, a study conducted by United Nations highlights that 30 countries will face water scarcity by 2025, and 18 of which are in Middle East and North Africa. These countries include Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Somalia and Gulf Co-operation countries.

Water scarcity and poverty are correlated. Scarcity of water is a great threat to progress in poverty alleviation and human development. For example in many developing countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh irrigation system plays a vital role in poverty alleviation by providing food security, employment opportunities and protection against famine. South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa are the two regions in the world where decline in water availability for irrigation can result in failure of crop production which in return will have negative impact on the livelihood of rural agricultural communities. According to the Ignacio Saiz, Director of Centre for Economic and Social Rights, "The world's water supplies should guarantee every member of the population to cover their personal and domestic needs." He added, ‘’fundamentally, these are issues of poverty and inequality, man-made problems’’ (Al-jazeera). It is because of lack of water resources; millions of people in the developing countries are living in impoverished conditions, facing unemployment and suffering from various treatable diseases.

It is a well established fact that without freshwater resources the UN Millennium Development Goals of poverty eradication, promotion of gender equality and primary education, reduction in child mortality, improvement in maternal health and elimination of Malaria and water-borne diseases are difficult to achieve. Managing water resources is crucial in ensuring that water is available for all and is conserved for future consumption. Since freshwater is unevenly distributed within and among countries, the stress related to water resources is also unevenly distributed. It is possible for one country to be water abundant while its neighboring country could suffer from water scarcity. This uneven distribution of the water resources calls for collaboration from different state actors as well as national and international NGOs in order to manage scarce water resources through improved technologies to maximize economic and social welfare of both developed and developing countries.

One of the most essential aims of managing water resources is to recognise the rights and obligations of landlocked, upper and lower riparian states to protect people and their properties from disastrous effects of scarcity or abundance of water like draughts and floods. Constructions of dams and reservoirs and drainage system, as well as investment in water technologies and river infrastructure are few examples of sustainable solution to prevent water related disasters. Similarly, building flood-proof houses and water channels, investing in drainage systems and placing sandbags near the riverbanks where embankments are not controlled can help avoid flood damages. However many countries are unable to implement techniques to manage water resources due to lack of resources and expertise. Some developing countries are prone to water-related disasters and are often left without shelter and basic necessities of life, including lack of safe drinking water and sanitation when the disaster strikes. Since provision of clean water and sanitation is crucial for human survival and to avoid harmful diseases, Muslim Aid deliver safe water and water purification tablets during emergency situations. When societies are hit by water related disasters, the Charity ensures to provide water purification systems and environment friendly sanitation facilities.

Addressing water scarcity threats, supplying communities with fresh water as well as implementing techniques and methods to prevent them from water-related disasters are fundamental to the development activities. Such initiatives require long-term planning, cooperation from several actors like local government, local NGOs, beneficiaries, neighbouring countries, international NGOs, United Nations and international organisations.  For instance, Muslim Aid implemented several water well projects in the Takeo province of Cambodia in 2010 in collaboration with the host government and Australian Government. The project benefitted more than 600 families ensuring that they will not have to walk miles to have access to clean water. In 2011, Muslim Aid worked with the Department of Water in Gambia to expand its plot borehole project to 10 communities delivering clean water to 7000 people. Due to this project, many women and children could prevent themselves from waterborne diseases caused by polluted water supply and sanitation. Similarly in this same year, the charity worked with Behneen Village Council in North Lebanon to provide water pumps and pipelines for domestic and agricultural purposes benefitting 70 families. In 2012, Muslim Aid held training and workshops in Indonesia to discuss ways to adapt to water related disasters and climate change.

Faith based organisations like Muslim Aid can facilitate the process of tackling challenges posed by water scarcity. Since water is considered to be a blessing in Islam, supplying fresh water and managing its resources becomes fundamental to the humanitarian activities of Muslim charities. Moreover, human beings are also warned in Islam of the disasters caused by water. Flood is mentioned in Surah Al- Ankabut verse 14, when people were saved from it through Noah’s Ark. Water in the form of torrential rain is also stated in Quran in Surah Al Qamar in verse 11. It therefore becomes a duty on all Muslim charities to consider flood preventive measures while implementing water projects.

*The copyright of this article is held by the Information and Public Affairs Department of Muslim Aid, UK. Use of its contents is allowed subject to acknowledgement. The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent the point of view of Muslim Aid.

22 March 2013 

By: Amal Imad Information & Public Affairs Assistant Muslim Aid

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