Water resources beyond the WASH cosmos
In the WASH sector the basic element of water – so fundamental to life – is seen as a vehicle to achieve targets: SDGs, full coverage to households and to improve the quality of life of millions. However, many others sectors which support the enabling environment, the financial flows or even the sustainability of water and sanitation services such as agriculture and hydropower are perceived as competitors or even polluters. Not forgetting that in rural areas most of the households are farmers too, so from their perspective the line between WASH, water resources and other aspects of their lives is actually really thin.
During my past trip in Ethiopia, I carried out a quick water resource risk assessment, commissioned by IRC as part of the Bridge Programme for the Millennium Water Alliance to identify hazards which may challenge the achievement of full WASH coverage in three woredas, or districts.
Obviously, where the fields are green, water scarcity is not due to water shortage -or at least for most of the year – but rather to the lack of infrastructure, poor quality construction, or poor management. But water quality is another issue. Limited access to sanitation services (leading to almost a third of the population practising open defecation), along with no regulation to control agricultural inputs and livestock wandering happily in surface waters and streams, makes for a dangerous and toxic mix for water quality.
It could be argued that water quality it is not a priority when only a 10.5% of the population have access to safety managed services. However, water resources will become a priority as it always does when scarcity happens. So, initiatives like the Bridge Programme which rightly considers water resource risks before natural scarcity and brings together a range of different stakeholders, including other sectors, are really taking the sustainable path to improve water resource management inside the WASH cosmos.