Dwindling supplies of safe drinking water is a major problem impacting every continent.
Water scarcity at least one month per year affects 3.6 billion people, nearly 50% the global population, projected to increase with global temperatures rising due to climate change, increasing drought and desertification. By 2050, it is projected that at least 1 in 4 people are likely to be affected by recurring water shortages, some 4.8–5.7 billion. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home; affecting health, education and livelihoods.
Whilst the global demand for water grows on average 1% per year, due to population growth, economic development and changing consumption, since the 1990s, water pollution has worsened in almost all rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, with deterioration of water quality expected to further escalate over the next decades. With greater flood risk, projected to rise from impacting 1.2 billion today to 1.6 billion in 2050 (nearly 20% of the world’s population), plus land degradation/desertification and drought estimated at 1.8 billion people today, water issues create the most significant ‘natural disaster’ based on mortality and socio-economic impact relative to GDP per capita.
The lack of clean water for drinking and sanitation encourages disease, killing millions with preventable, contaminated water-induced diarrhoea and dehydration, or inhibiting work and study, resulting in the loss of millions of days working for livelihoods, and education, creating a vicious circle of difficult to break poverty. Some people walk miles every day to collect water. Universal access to clean water and sanitation is thus one of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:
SDG #6: "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all"
In addition to access to clean water, research shows tourists use on average many many more times water than local people, further depleting often crucial water supply for local populations. The right to water should not be compromised by tourism, be it in construction, for facilities, drinking, or waste water management.
Likewise, limited natural water has prevented other people and places, like Floreana Island of the Galapagos, developing their population, let alone tourism infrastructure. Tourism if developed sustainably can improve water and sanitation to a local area. So how can tourism aid in alleviating water poverty rather than contributing to it?
World Water Day held annually on the 22nd March intends to make us internationally aware of the importance of fresh water and its sustainable management.
What can we do?
Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030 requires we invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities and encourage hygiene at every level. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems such as forests, mountains, wetlands and rivers is essential if we are to mitigate water scarcity. More international cooperation is also needed to encourage water efficiency and support treatment technologies in developing countries.
- Under SEED Madagascar's 3 year Malio project, over 11,000 additional people now have access to improved household sanitation facilities, with an additional 7,406 students benefiting from latrine construction and refurbishments at their schools, delivering water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) educational lessons to 6,567 primary school children and knowledge sharing sessions with families.
Thousands of communities rely on wells for their water supply, often under extreme demand or prolonged dry or broken periods, and rivers, often hours’ walk away and frequented by livestock.
Building a well can be a fantastic first step towards a community gaining access to clean drinking water, but all too often, the focus of water provision project is to build the infrastructure and leave, with no support for long-term maintenance and with little or no support from local government to maintain community water supplies. Infrastructure alone is not sustainable, it is vital that people have the skills to look after their water points themselves.
- SEED Madagascar's Project Fatsaka aims to improve drinking-water practices and build capacity in 28 communities to manage and maintain their wells independently, encouraging safeguarding such as constructing fences and repairs, and providing “top-up” maintenance support, training and assessments to ensure well construction work is what people really need.
- When Tiger Mountain Pokara Lodge was built, the village permitted the use of a spring, so the families from whom the land was bought were also provided with private water taps, with resulting health and education benefits: freeing girls’ time for school that would otherwise be demanded for fetching water. Pumping water 1000ft to the Lodge also makes water conservation valued, so all toilets have a shortened flush, most taps are fitted with aerators and flow rates of taps, showers and toilets are monitored.
Rain water harvesting
This enables communities’ simple, affordable and replicable technique of obtaining clean drinking water from rain. Schools often offer excellent locations for new pre-galvanised roofs for clean and efficient water run-off, space for large storage tanks (eg. 10,000 litres), and a simple guttering setup fitted with a downpipe first flush system to ensure water entering the tanks is clean. Smaller, plastic containers (eg. 250 litres) can make the system scale up and be easily replicable by community households, facilitating families to create their own systems to provide themselves with clean water at home.
- SEED Madagascar is employing rain water harvesting projects to address the fundamental problem, that 11.7 million people in Madagascar do not have clean drinking water, focusing on promoting rainwater harvesting at household level. As nearly half of Madagascar’s rural water systems broke down in 2013, one third of which were not fixed properly (UNICEF, 2014), a committee supports the management and maintenance of the system for sustainability, longevity and fair use of the water.
- At Chumbe Island, there is no ground water source on the rocky coral island, so each bungalow collects its own freshwater supply during the rainy season. The banda bungalows are designed for optimal catchment, from the palm thatched roof via a complex filtration system to be stored in a cistern underneath. Hot & cold-water is available for the shower and hand basin, hand-pumped through a solar-powered heating system into containers. As water is too sparse, composting toilets have no-flush, zero sewage and decompose human waste quickly by reducing it to a nutrient rich dry matter to be re-used in toilets and plant beds, protecting coral reefs from run-off. Vegetative grey water from the kitchen is used to water small garden plots, thus also maximising the use of nutrients too.
Currently, water management remains heavily dominated by traditional, human-built (‘grey’) infrastructure, and ecosystem degradation is a leading cause of negative impacts on hydrology, increasing water resource management challenges, with estimated 64–71% of natural wetland area worldwide lost due to human activity since 1900 (UN Water Report, 2018).
Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) are thus inspired and supported by nature, and use, or mimic, natural processes to address contemporary water management challenges, improve water security and deliver co-benefits vital to all aspects of sustainable development, particularly water for agriculture, sustainable cities and disaster risk reduction. NBS enhance water availability (e.g., soil moisture retention, groundwater recharge), improve water quality (e.g., natural and constructed wetlands), and reduce risks associated with water-related disasters and climate change (e.g., floodplain restoration, green roofs).
NBS support a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design and promotes greater resource productivity aiming to reduce waste and avoid pollution, including through reuse and recycling, and the concepts of green growth and the green economy, which promote sustainable natural resource use and harness natural processes to underpin economies.
NBS include green infrastructure that can substitute, augment or work in parallel with grey infrastructure in a cost-effective manner, blending green and grey to maximize benefits and system efficiency while minimizing costs and trade-offs.
A constructed wetland (CW) is an artificial wetland created for the purpose of treating municipal or industrial wastewater, greywater or stormwater runoff. Using natural functions of vegetation, soil, and organisms, they are designed to emulate the features of natural wetlands, such as acting as a biofilter or removing sediments and pollutants such as heavy metals from the water. Some constructed wetlands may also serve as a habitat for native and migratory wildlife, although not intended as their main purpose.
- Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge in Nepal are working on installing constructed wetland (CW) reed-bed natural filtration plants.
Tourism's Water Consumption
Typically, holidays in often warmer environments than home lead to tourists drinking more water and high demand for swimming pools. If not done sustainably, this large consumption of water can be devastating to local communities, who may not have access to water themselves.
Done sustainably, sustainable water management can improve the guest experience, protect the environment and biodiversity, and reduce pollution and costs.
To address drinking water personal consumption, many sustainable operations such as Chumbe Island and Nikoi Island desalinate and filter their own water. Providing it to guests in reusable stainless steel or glass bottles also minimises plastic waste.
- The Pangaea Exploration boat even has on-board fresh-water making.
- At Jicaro Island Ecolodge, they don't just provide water filtration for guests, but also for the 600-strong community who were at risk of ill health by drinking from Lake Nicaragua.
- At Nikoi Island, the swimming pool uses the sea salt water, topped up by reject desalinated water used for the hospitality; at Campi ya Kanzi, it's filled by rainwater catchment;
Water & The Guest Experience
Water can also be incredibly important to the tourist experience through water-based activities and connection to nature, for example out on the water whale watching or kayaking the mangroves at Lapa Rios, Stand Up Paddleboarding on Lake Nicaragua at Jicaro Island Ecolodge, snorkelling at Chumbe Island Coral Park where marine conservation is also key to the guest experience.
Finally, water is often at least part of the reason tourists choose a resort or destination in the first place. Sailing operations, like Pangaea Exploration would not exist without it - it's their whole raison d'etre. And where would we be without a great sunset over the water?
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