The significance of water to political and social stability is growing - Can we afford to be silent?

A blog By - Bernard Wainaina

It seems ironic that despite the fact that 71 per cent of Earth's surface is covered by water, it is still a limited resource that must be protected and effectively managed to ensure the socio- economic development of any country. Water sustains life and access to clean and safe drinking water, or lack thereof, has caused the rise and fall of civilisations. While human beings can survive about three weeks without food, we can only survive a few days without water before our bodies start to shut down. States undoubtedly have an obligation to protect the quality of drinking water supplies and resources. Now more than ever, in light of the challenges of climate change, accelerated urbanisation, increasing pollution, and depletion of water resources, contemporary states have an obligation to ensure that the right to water is fulfilled, especially for vulnerable groups.

This is because of the recognised link between poor access to water and improved sanitation, poverty, inequality, and unequal power relationships. This has often led to violent conflict. There is still a lot of work to be done to realise the right to water for all. Although governments around the world have tried to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2015 target of halving the proportion of people without safe drinking water, globally, 768 million people still do not have access to improved sources of drinking water and 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. This is especially pronounced for those in informal settlements and rural populations in developing countries.

Over one billion people in the developing world do not have access to water and millions more do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. These statistics show the stark reality of the enormous task ahead of us and the need to make water a pivotal component of the Sustainable Development Goals (which are meant to replace the MDGs later this year, if approved by the community of nations). PLASTIC BOTTLES It is appalling that we waste most of the little water available. We take it for granted and are willing to pay dearly to drink it from little plastic bottles.

Today, we are confronted by an even more profound challenge: growing populations and increasing demand for water in the face of limited supplies. The significance of water to political and social stability is growing. Can we afford to be silent? Can we afford to do nothing? Have we done anything meaningful? The poor quality of drinking water and sanitation costs Kenya Sh27 billion each year. Sh4.3 billion goes to health care for diseases caused by unsafe drinking water, Sh2.2 billion is lost in access time, while productivity losses account for Sh300 million. A staggering Sh20 billion is lost to premature deaths. Ensuring that citizens have access to clean drinking water and improved sanitation is, therefore, not just a priority, but an imperative that we must collectively meet.

The burden of pushing this agenda rests on the shoulders of the government, as stated in the Constitution, as an obligation in line with international law, and as a fulfilment of the legitimate expectations of Kenyans. However, Kenya,as is with many other African Countries, faces several challenges with regard to realising this fundamental right. Poor quality of drinking water and sanitation are worsened by accelerated urbanisation and growth of informal settlements,otherwise known as slums. The World Water Forum, held in Daegu and Gyeongju, South Korea, between April 12 and 17, recognised the need for fundamentally new approaches that mirror 21st century challenges, goals, and developments. The first Water Forum was held in Marrakech, Morocco in 1997 and has been held every three years since then. It is the world`s largest podium for discussion of water and water- related issues with tens of thousands of people across the world participating.

This year`s theme for the Forum was "Water for Our Future" with the message and goal of securing "safe and abundant water for all." This year the Forum included four elements; thematic, regional, political, and science and technology, with more than 400 sessions and 30000 participants. It discussed a wide range of different water- related issues, challenges and solutions across the world, from local issues to regional and global and transboundary concerns. The opening ceremony of the Forum was held at Daegu, the third largest city of South Korea, in the presence of Heads of State and Government, ministers, parliamentarians, water experts and other stakeholders. Despite the fact that poverty was an existential challenge, Africa has taken serious steps, to solve challenges of poverty and underdevelopment, which have bore results. Africa,despite sitting atop of huge water resources and potential energy, nevertheless, is suffering from economic water scarcity. Africa`s economy is a hostage of rainfall" and this necessitated the utilisation of any available water resource. Africa is determined to tap its water resources to mitigate climate risks, reduce dependency on rainfall and thus be able to provide water and food to its people.

Africa's hydropower potential can provide sufficient generation to build a regional power trade market. It's my sincere hope that the large water community that gathered in Daegu and Gyeongju for the 7th World Water Forum, will come out with recommendations that would facilitate the development of small to large scale water infrastructures in developing countries - to make their populations and their economies resilient to water related shocks. This can only be brought about through political commitment and involvement of the government, from the top levels to the lowest community rank. This commitment, backed by deployment of substantial resources to immediately embark on water investments in an urgent need to address the challenges arising from water access and water resource management of our time for posterity.

I am persuaded that concerted action is needed to reverse the present trends of overconsumption, pollution, and rising threats from drought and floods, now more than ever before. This can be done, and must be done. Let us strive to get it done. Bernard Wainaina is an Independent Agribusiness Advisor and CEO at Profarms Consultants®,Nairobi,Kenya. He mainly works with Agribusiness Youth Groups in Eastern African Region.