Gender impact of water resource management

Growing up in a rural mountainous area of Pakistan, I spent a great amount of my childhood collecting water from open sources for household and drinking purposes. We won´t hesitate drinking from open streams based on an old saying, “flowing water has self-cleaning property”. While water-borne diseases were prevalent, included diarrhea among children. During the winters, the harsh weather conditions and frozen water sources added to the challenge. The few available water pipes and taps would burst. To access water, we would break ice to retrieve water from streams. The lost study time, risky frozen conditions and health burden associated with water was greatly reduced by a sustainable and risk resilient technical intervention under a public-private partnership program called Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP)[1].  The program improved the life quality of local populations in various manners. It reduced exposure to contaminated open water sources by providing water infrastructure fit to the weather conditions. Even today risky situations prevail in major parts of rural areas in Pakistan and elsewhere. In many areas, collecting water expose women and children to social risks.

Girl accessing water at doorstep after implementation of WASEP (Photo: AKDN).

Water crisis has been declared as one of the greatest global risks. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right. Clean freshwater is essential for a healthy life while figures show that 1.1 billion people have limited access to freshwater resources and water scarcity impacts over 2.7 billion annually. With increasing population and climate change impacts, the water scarcity is predicted to impact over two-third of world´´s population by 2025[2]. Furthermore, inadequate water supply and sanitation facilities are reported to cost USD 260 billion worldwide annually[3]. It is estimated that women and girls spend 200 million hours every day collecting water. The UNICEF called it a colossal waste of their valuable time. Access to clean drinking water makes a difference in the lives of people[4]. The situation calls for more actions needed in making clean water and sanitation facilities accessible to all.

The third principle on water in the Dublin Statement states that, “women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water [5].” Water management practices in rural and urban settings differ in many ways while poor water supply and quality has a stronger gender impact. In a rural setting, women and girls are responsible for gathering water for domestic purposes. Poor water management practices directly impact women and girls. Moreover, poor sanitation practices compromise the dignity and personal safety of women and girls. The health, education and economic well-being of girls and women are also negatively impacted. Studies have found that significant inequalities in water, sanitation and hygiene have higher health implications on women and girls, indicating an intersection of water-health nexus with gender[6]. Although women remain the main provider of water resources in households in major parts of the world, their participation in decision making and water resource management are rare. More actions are needed to achieve gender equality in water and sanitation. Gender-sensitive approaches will improve the sustainability of water and sanitation services[7]. Furthermore, it will aid in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDG 3, 5 & 6).

Likewise, in urban centers of developing countries, women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting, managing, and using water at households for domestic chores. These countries have fragile institutions and water infrastructure along with dense population leading to economic constraints. The women and girls in urban centers are equally exposed to the health burden and economic impacts of poor safe water availability as in rural areas. Involvement of women in the water management processes have been found to enhance the process by many folds. A review conducted in 2017 by Deloitte[8] identified few areas for women involvement in water resource management. The needs and preferences of women as primary customers make women involvement in design, operation, and maintenance of water systems valuable. Furthermore, women participation in water utilities, distribution and policy making would require filling the human resource gaps by increasing the number of women in the talent pipeline.

[1] https://the.akdn/en/resources-media/whats-new/press-release/safe-drinking-water-and-sanitation-project-improves-lives-over-200000-people-gilgit

[2] https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

[3] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/6/un-women-stresses-role-of-women-in-water-management-at-the-water-for-life-conference

[4] https://www.unicef.org/turkiye/en/node/2156

[5] https://www.gwp.org/contentassets/05190d0c938f47d1b254d6606ec6bb04/dublin-rio-principles.pdf

[6] Pouramin, P., Nagabhatla, N. and Miletto, M., 2020. A systematic review of water and gender interlinkages: Assessing the intersection with health. Frontiers in Water2, p.6.

[7] https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-and-gender

[8] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/3267_Thirsty-for-change/DR20_Thirsty%20for%20change2_reprint.pdf

Mountain ecosystem restoration for disaster mitigation in Pakistan

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xtreme events associated with the universe are older than human origin on earth and they have coexisted with old civilizations (Khan & Khan, 2008), while during the first half-decade of the twenty-first century, great human influences in incidents of disasters have been observed. Irrespective of location, hazards of multitude nature threaten mankind (Pinkowski, 2008). Climate change today is a serious issue all around the world and a biggest challenge posing threat to the people and economies. IPCC (Inter-governmental panel on climate change) assessment report shows that crop yield rates are declining in most parts of the world, due to the consequences of rising temperatures, while prevalence of climate induced diseases has been observed too. Fresh water availability is at risk, especially in large river basins and it is anticipated that, it may impact billions of people by 2050s (Ashraf, 2014).

Pakistan holds a complex and remarkable physiographical features that include the Northern high mountain ranges (Karakurum, Himalayas, Hindukush), the snow covered peaks, western bordering highlands in the north, the salt range and Potohar plateau, Indus plain and the Baluchistan plateau (Earthquake Review, 2011). Pakistan, despite contributing less to natural disaster driving phenomenon, such as greenhouse gases, has been among the top ten most affected countries worldwide. Events like the phenomenal floods (2010) that submerged one fifth of the country, displacing millions of people and changing monsoon pattern is just a single example of natural disasters in Pakistan.  Climate change is expected particularly to affect the agriculture sector in Pakistan (Ashraf, 2014).

Figure: A problem tree indicating some of the causes and impacts of natural disasters in mountain areas.

The mountain regions of the world pose special challenges to sustainable development. They tend to be ecologically fragile; highly variable in terms of precipitation, temperature, and other factors; and prone to landslides and other natural disasters. Local communities are often dispersed, situated in remote locations, and economically and socially marginalized from national development processes (IUCN, 2003), but there are huge benefits associated with these regions. They are the protector of water catchments, and they have unique cultural as well as biodiversity assets. These areas are rich in natural resources. Managing the problems of hazards in these areas and enhancing capacities in the communities has become crucial.

Some 25 percent of the earth’s surface is mountainous, inhabited by 26 per cent of world’s population, and are source of fresh water for more than half of humankind. The crisis is due to cultural, ecological, social and economic changes at faster rates. Moreover, population growth, infrastructure development, deforestation, over-grazing, agricultural expansion, climate change and violent human conflicts all threaten this fragile environment. In 1992, the special needs of mountain regions were taken into account in the form of the Agenda 21, “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development.” In 2002, the year was declared as the International Year of the Mountains. The year culminated in the Global Mountain Summit and adopted at the Bishkek Mountain Platform (IUCN, 2003). Reports by IUCN in the mountain areas of Pakistan situated in the Northern areas show that these areas are confronted by a wide array of problems and threats. Natural resources such as forests and biodiversity are being degraded; food security is diminishing; women’s workloads, poverty and vulnerability are on the rise; energy supplies are insufficient to meet demand; drinking water supplies are inadequate and frequently contaminated; and access to health and education services remains constrained by many factors. Although the report was drafted more than a decade back, the current situation indicates little improvement and needs further actions. This area remained unrepresented in national political forums.

This year, Pakistan hosting the World Environment Day 2021 is a great opportunity to recognize the importance of a healthy mountain ecosystem for sustainable development in Pakistan. The theme of World Environment Day 2021 is Ecosystem Restoration, and in the context of Pakistan, the mountain areas, housing diverse biodiversity and the fresh water sources require special attention. The slogan: “Recreate, Reimagine, Restore”, further calls for resource allocation and involvement of local communities in the environmental protection. Managing the human impacts on the mountain ecosystem also holds greater promises in mitigating the natural disasters. Because, the mountain areas of Pakistan are predicted to receive greater climate change impacts, one reason being the presence of high number of glaciers in the area. Furthermore, the local communities’ access to alternative economic sources will decrease the human dependence on natural resources and degradation of the environment.

References:

Khan, H., & Khan, A. (2008). Natural hazards and disaster management in Pakistan.

Pinkowski, J. (Ed.). (2008). Disaster management handbook. CRC Press.

Ashraf, A. (2014).  The changing climate. Pakistan Today Magazine, 4, 286.

Government of Pakistan & IUCN. (2003). Northern Areas State of Environment and Development. IUCN Pakistan, Karachi, 301.

Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority.(2011). Earthquake Review.

07 moments from a year of the REWATERGY Project

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n the anniversary of the REWATERGY-EID project, we look back at 07 moments from the initial 12 months of the project, a personal testimony of an early stage researcher (ESR). REWATERGY is an industrial-academic partnership within the water-energy nexus, a Marie Curie Industrial Doctorate training network. The project is funded by the European Commission within Horizon 2020.

The REWATERGY project partners three universities and three companies across Europe. The universities are the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Spain; and Ulster University, Belfast Ireland. The industries include Delft IMP, Netherlands; ProPhotonix, Cork Ireland and FCC Aqualia, Spain.

REWATERGY provides ESRs a unique opportunity to conduct their research in an academic and industrial environment. Therefore, ESRs acquire wider exposure to the practical application of their research.

1.  The start of a new journey

We started a new journey with excitement, curiosity, and determination. REWATERGY brought together eight ESRs from seven different countries of the World. The ESRs came from Brazil, India, Italy, Ireland, Jordan, Pakistan and Spain. The ESRs bring with them diverse experiences and add diverse perspectives to the project.

Low number of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects and industrial doctoral training programs is a common subject of discussion and concern since decades. In the REWATERGY project, four among the eight ESRs are women. The equal participation of women in the project is notable and encourages the participation of women in science.  

2. The first meeting with ESRs

Here arrived the most exciting part, the meetup in a beautiful venue. The University of Cambridge hosted the meeting, attended by all members and the ESRs. It provided a chance to share ideas, plans, socialize, discuss, and know each other. Secondly, attendees gave presentations on their research background, role in the project and research plans. REWATERGY project focuses on two important fields of research; water and energy.

After the meeting, we spent a valuable day and spared few worthy hours exploring the Cambridge. The enchanting beauty and academic atmosphere of Cambridge was visible to the eyes, as well as the diversity among the University of Cambridge community.

3. Enrollment in a Ph.D. program

The value of the project exceeds its many benefactions as it provides ESRs the chance to fulfill their dreams to further their studies. As an industrial-academic partnership program, REWATERGY provides us the opportunity to work in academia and the industry. In the first month, we all enrolled in a Ph.D. program in our respective partner institutions.

4. Three days’ workshop in Belfast, Ireland

Our first workshop in Belfast proved memorable, learning, and spending more days together. We attended live demonstrations of laboratory techniques in the laboratory facilities of Ulster University, Belfast.

At Ulster University, we met researchers and research groups working on related research domains. We started expanding our research network.

In Belfast, we were welcomed by the crowded Christmas market. During the three days, we visited various exciting parts of the city and tasted some local Irish food.

5. New friends, a new language, and new places

By a few weeks, we become friends. The REWATERGY project encouraged and supported the integration of ESRs in a new environment and culture. ESRs placed in countries speaking languages other than English availed an opportunity to take up language courses. This is a moment of personal growth along with the study and research. We are learning and developing an understanding of the countries, the work environment, the culture, and the language.

6. Socially distant but remotely connected

By the mid of the first year, the Covid-19 Pandemic spread to countries across the Europe. REWATERGY senior project members encouraged the ESRs to observe the restrictions imposed on mobility. We stayed home during the lockdowns as per each country´s law while remaining remotely connected.

Learning continued during the Covid-19 pandemic in a new work environment. REWATERGY adopted the new remote working route and observed social distancing.

In the first research progress, all partners, ESRs, and the project manager connected online. The research progress meeting was successfully conducted. We presented our individual research progress and attended the discussions. The research progress remained highly fruitful and provided new ways forward.

By the fifth and sixth month in some cases, still keeping with the social distancing and precautionary measures, gradually we resumed our laboratory activities. Together we remained resilient in the face of the Pandemic.

During the prolonged travel restrictions and in continuation with the remote work environment, REWATERGY successfully conducted over eight online training. Each training, delivered by an expert in the field, expanded our knowledge and horizon.

7. Looking at the future with renewed hopes together!

As we enter the second year of the REWATERGY project, we move on with higher and renewed hopes for a smooth transition back to normality. We realize more than ever the potential of scientific research and innovation in sustainable development and in building resilient societies.

Now our aims are not only to achieve the project objectives, expand our scientific skills or, grow professionally, but also to contribute to some of the pressing needs of our society through research and innovation.