Water scarcity an urgent issue for the international community

Effective water management central to human and social development

Last February Megha Kumar, a young woman from Delhi, stood before delegates at the launch ceremony to designate 2013 as the United Nations International Year of Water Co-operation, and conveyed one simple message: "Water, water everywhere, only if we share."

This statement is clear in its meaning – now, more than ever, there is a great need for the international community to come together to resolve issues about water scarcity.

Today, 780 million people do not have access to clean water. Almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. There is an increased demand for water access; water stress is emerging as a serious global issue.

Water is different from other resources in that it is not confined to political borders. Two-thirds of the world’s 276 river basins are shared by two countries. Water co-operation is not only essential to preserving water resources and protecting the environment but also to fostering peaceful relations between and among communities.


In Ireland we never have to think about how different our lives would be without water. Compare this with sub-Saharan Africa. Women there are twice as likely as men to be responsible for the water collection in their households and limited access to water means they have to travel long distances to fetch it. On average, a woman will walk 6km each day to collect water – precious time that could be spent in education or on working to produce food.

Effective water management is central to human and social development and by improving access to water we create more opportunities to increase people's potential for producing more food, improving their health and receiving a better education. Gorta 's projects aim to do just that by providing communities with the tools and knowledge to manage their water sources in sustainable and efficient ways.

There are a lot of challenges to implementing sustainable water management in Africa. It is important to ensure maximum collaboration at local level so that the communities benefit directly from its availability. Because water often depends on climatic conditions and human activities, each area needs a tailor- made solution in order to bring the most appropriate solution to farmers, households and communities. Support of other groups is also essential as local authorities and government departments play a critical role in establishing water management schemes.

When it comes to water management, co-operation is key. This sense of co-operation and ownership by communities in developing countries can bring about a real change in social, environmental and economic development. The knock-on effect of this is that it can lead to a real and tangible change in issues such as gender equality, social equity and enterprise development, ultimately leading to a reduction in poverty levels.

Megha Kumar’s statement may have been simple, but it should make us all think.

Ron Rosen is technical advis er on water management for Gorta, the overseas development agency. Gorta is holding a seminar, Water Co-operation: Key to Social Justice , today, World Water Day