Tourism must tap into water issue
ETHICAL TRAVELLER:WATER IS A human right. In July this year, the UN declared that “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights”. Not something most of us want to think about on holiday, really. However, with water so very central to tourism, and tourism so very central to world economies, the two are inextricably linked.
Indeed, our water footprint as tourists is something that we will be hearing more about as temperatures continue to rise around the world. Especially in those winter sun destinations we all crave. Here are some of the unfathomable facts: 1.1 billion people worldwide have no access to clean water; 1.4 million children die each year because of unsafe water; in parts of Asia and Africa women carry water weighing as much as your luggage on their heads ever day just for basic needs. And the hardest fact for holidaymakers to face is that this is often happening just a few kilometres away from a tourism resort with infinity pools sourced from precious ground water.
The Stockholm International Water Institute (siwi.org) says: “The world’s water crisis is not related to the physical availability of water, but to unbalanced power relations, poverty and related inequalities.” Leading sustainable tourism charity, Tourism Concern, agrees, lobbying for an end to water inequity and highlighting problem areas, such as Kovalam Kerala in southern India which, like so many in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, was transformed from quiet fishing village to uncontrolled tourism building site within a couple of decades. As tourism grew, fishing families were forced to leave to find beaches where they could fish freely and secure new homes. This displacement was left unmanaged, leading to an excess of pit latrines in their new villages, which contaminated already short supplies of ground water. Ground water which gently sprinkles neighbouring golf courses. Daily drinking water is now brought to these villages by privately-run tankers which local people have to buy. The same goes for tourism destinations in Africa, the Caribbean and Mexico, to name a few, but also closer to home, such as Greece, Malta and Spain, where water has been shipped in containers in recent years to supplement supplies.
In Bali, a tourist can use between 750-1,500 litres of water a day, depending on how many pools, golf courses and gardens there are on offer, or how many showers are had by each individual. Down the road, however, women are still walking several kilometres a day to get a bucketful of water for their families.
Providing water for the world is central to all the UN’s Millennium Development Goals which are to be met by 2015 (un.org/millenniumgoals). However, beyond a polite request to save bathroom towels, or a low pressure flush in the loo, I don’t see many of tourism’s leaders taking serious action to deal with this crisis.
There is plenty we can do on our travels to limit water use, but understanding the issues is a good starting point, and making your tour operator aware that you are concerned about them is another. If you see villagers carrying buckets of water, then raise it at management level not just at the hotel reception. Often businesses do nothing until their clients start to shout about it. And sadly, many governments do nothing until international companies start shouting too, in response to their clients’ demands.
You can also choose a tour operator which has a clearly defined responsible tourism policy, but this is not just an issue for eco-tourism specialists anymore. The mass tourism industry needs to act and we are all part of that mass. If you are travelling independently, it’s worth referring to Tourism Concern’s Ethical Travel Guide(tourismconcern.org.uk) as it works closely with community-run organisations worldwide which are switched on to the problems.
Saving water on holiday is not just the right thing to do; it is supporting a human right.