We all know that water is necessary for life - for industry, agriculture, drinking, sanitation, and hygiene.
Due to population growth (expected to reach 10 billion by 2050), urbanisation, and climate change, competition for water resources is expected to increase. In the Caribbean, by 2050, drought is expected to increase due to climate change while seasonal hazards and increased impact from natural disasters - hurricanes etc. will have a more noticeable effect.
For women and girls, the impacts of climate change and water access will be felt more strongly. Women and girls disproportionately serve as water purveyors, managing water use in the home for cooking, cleaning etc. and in collecting water in eight out of 10 households, as such, women and girls additionally face the burdens of needing to transit long distances to retrieve water (WHO and UNICEF, 2017), taking time away from meaningful employment or education. Paying attention to women and girls’ needs for additional resources to address their menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is another factor to consider when looking at access to water and sanitation in multiple regions across the globe.
Recognizing the importance of accessing water, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as demonstrated by SDG 6 which emphasizes “clean water and sanitation” (targets 6.1 and 6.2), outline indicators for ensuring sustainable and equitable access to water for all, which includes access to basic hygiene needs for women and girls.
A recent study conducted by National Geographic discovered that there are 1.1 billion people living without a consistent supply of potable water and 2.6 billion living without sanitation services. This means that over 3 billion people are potentially exposed to water-related illnesses every year, including the spread of viral hepatitis and diarrhoea. In developing countries, most people have access to less than 25 litres of safe and clean drinking water per day while people in developed countries use approximately 150 litres per day. This highlights that it is not just the quantity, but access to safe and potable water that is important. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/freshwater-crisis
Among the least developed countries, 35% lack access to basic water needs (i.e. water from an approved water source which can be retrieved within a 15 minute round trip), 65% lack access to basic sanitation (i.e. a toilet or latrine which protects against soil leaching by contaminants), and 73% lack access to basic hygiene (i.e. a handwashing facility with soap and water) (WHO, 2019).
Then of course there is the case of too much water. Hurricanes and floods often provide us with water, too much water, which can often do more harm than good. For example, in September of 2017, the Commonwealth of Dominica was impacted by Hurricane Maria which resulted in overall loss and damages totalling 226% of GDP. The water sector had loss and damages totalling US$64 million, with recovery costs of US$56.3 million (Post Disaster Needs Assessment 2017). In 2021, the volcanic eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had impacts on access to water for so many and also impacted waterways and water sources.
Floods and landslides also have major impacts on all economic and social sectors. What does this mean for poor and vulnerable women and men? For their livelihoods, work and households? Small-holder farmers, both men and women, are particularly vulnerable to landslides, which impact both arable land and access to markets when roads and bridges are blocked by landslides as well as flooding.
Over the last 18 to 24 months, we have also seen the impact of the COVD-19 pandemic on economies, households, and particularly on the livelihoods of sole-proprietors of micro-business, many of whom are often women. No large-scale assessments have yet been done but the experiences of loss can be seen and heard all around us.
Despite a number of visible gender-related challenges, consistent and up-to-date research assessing the intersection between gender and water is generally lacking. Our team of panellists shared insights, experiences and possible solutions on:
* Why Gender Matters in Water Resources Management
* Why Gender Representation Should be a Must Have e.g. in Water Governance
* What Lessons Did COVID Teach Us