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Water stewardship and sustainability

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Clean and safe water is crucial to the livelihood of all men. It has a direct effect on the economic, social and environmental welfare of all (WHO, 2011). 1 in 10 people does not have access to clean and safe water worldwide (Water.org, 2017). The irregular distribution of freshwater resources across the planet and the poor management of available water resources make the availability of clean, usable water a major issue.

The scarcity, misuse and mismanagement of many of the earth’s vital resources in the face of an ever-expanding global population have given rise to discourse and action around managing and conserving the available resources. One of such initiatives, water stewardship is defined by the Alliance of Water Stewardship as ‘the use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through stakeholder-inclusive processes that involve site and catchment-based activities’.

Water stewardship is concerned with the responsible present management and future planning of water resources. It is rooted in the belief that all water users have a role to play in the sustainable management of the earth’s freshwater resources.

The challenges associated with proper water stewardship in the 21st century are multidimensional and inter-related. Businesses, individuals and the government are all competing for a finite amount of freshwater resources to meet contending needs. Water is material to the bottom line of many companies and is crucial in business production.

Freshwater ecosystem resources are actually unrealised assets for many industries. But these freshwater resources are not utilised with the same level of care that regular business assets are accorded. Water stewardship is about businesses understanding the risks they face as a result of water scarcity and pollution from improper use of water resources. Water stewardship takes action to guarantee that water is managed in a sustainable manner and is treated as a shared, public resource of real value.

Sustainability and Water Challenges
The concept of ‘sustainable development’ revolves around effectively utilising and managing the earth’s resources in a responsible manner. The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of this present world without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

Sustainable development informs and controls present-day thinking and operations based on a futuristic view of the world.. The underlying objective of sustainability is the effective management and utilisation of resources in a manner that ensures its availability for utilisation by future generations.

Sustainability sits finely balanced on the nexus between profit, the people and the planet. It is founded on the premise that people, businesses and institutions can prosper by meeting their current resource needs in a manner that does not compromise the needs and prosperity of future generations. Genuine sustainability practices embrace equilibrium between the economic, social and environmental goals of any initiative.

The Concept of Water Stewardship
Water Stewardship Practices – The African Context
Africa faces acute and difficult water challenges. The wellbeing and livelihoods of citizens and the welfare of national economies is intrinsically dependent on water availability. Agricultural production systems, power generation, textile and clothing industries; large contributors to the success of African economies all depend on available water resources.

The effective management of water resources is a pre-requisite for job creation, poverty reduction and the protection of plant and animal biodiversity. However, the variability and changeability of the African climate, escalating water demands due to sustained population growth, depletion and degradation, and persistent problems with investment, capacity and governance continue to deny Africa the water security it needs.

Nigeria is a case study for the water scarcity paradox in Africa. Whereas other countries within Africa might be water poor (as a result of their prevailing climate or other geographical reasons), Nigeria has an abundance of surface and groundwater resources.

However, reliable access to water of acceptable quality remains a major challenge. Clean, usable water is scarce and in high demand. Despite the abundance of water resources, only 20 percent of the semi-urban population had access to piped water in 2004 (World Bank, 2014). Nigerians resort to alternative sources of water such as private boreholes, wells, water vendors and rivers. Lack of access to potable water has a major impact on the quality of sanitation, hygiene and health within the nation.

Water Stewardship as a Sustainability Practice
The global sustainable water supply is estimated to be 4,200 km3 per year. According to UNIDO, as at year 2000, global water use stood at 3,950 km3. With the rapid rate of population growth, global water demand for the year 2030 is projected to be 6,900 km3 (UNIDO). These figures show that global water demand will clearly outstrip sustainable supply of water by 40%. Without a significant change in approach, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecasts that the global water demand for manufacturing industries alone will increase by 400 percent from 2000 to 2050 (UNIDO).

Access to safe water sources is a basic, fundamental human right that billions of people are denied of. Around 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is contaminated with fecal matter.

Collective action is required on global and local scales to ensure that proper water stewardship measures are developed and effected. This includes measuring the water footprint of businesses and corporations, setting reduction and pollution targets in businesses and communities and creating water stewardship programmes to promote awareness and show its economic, environmental and social benefits on communities and ecosystems. Greater transparency on water consumption and pollution is equally important.

Becoming a good water steward necessitates shifting from ad-hoc initiatives to recognising water as a strategic and core issue that is material to profits and long-term opportunities for growth. By effectively and responsibly utilising and managing the earth’s water resources, we can promote economic, social and environmentally beneficial development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


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