A youth perspective

Development Policy28 Feb 2013Ralien Bekkers

Increasing awareness and knowledge about water use is essential and should be a key part of the post-2015 agenda.

Water is the basis of everything. Without clean water, there would be no life on earth. It is a basic human right and it is striking that we – as the global community – are still unable to provide every human being on this planet with clean drinking water, while others waste water as though they have too much. Unequal distribution, lack of infrastructure, too little awareness and knowledge about the challenges and developments regarding the water situation in the world, and worldwide regulation to prevent bad use of water, are key challenges to be tackled in the post-2015 international development process.

As a young individual from a wealthy country like the Netherlands, I see how the way we use and misuse water. It is so normal for us to use it on a regular basis: to drink, to cook, to wash. Also, it is an integral part of the production processes of many things we use. I am absolutely sure that very few people are aware of the importance and essence of water in our society. Water is a basic necessity, not only for our domestic consumption but also for our industry and welfare.

One of the problems is the lack of awareness among consumers. We take a shower as long as we want, we use and drink as much water as we like, and we have no idea of the volume of water used in early stages of the production chains of our goods. Therefore, it is necessary to inform society on the water issue, on the one hand in the form of national and international interactive and innovative campaigns, and on the other hand, to include it in school curricula, especially in practicals, to make sure that young people gain a basic knowledge of water challenges and are more aware of their own behaviour as consumers, now and in the future.

The water issue has many facets, one of the most urgent being the equal provision and distribution of safe and clean drinking water. Millennium Development Goal 7C aims to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water (and basic sanitation) by 2015. An improved Sustainable Development Goal should aim to reduce this proportion to near zero in the upcoming (10) years.

With respect to the education of children and young people at schools on issues like water (but also food, climate, and so on), MDG 2 (on access to primary education for everyone) could be improved by adding these global topics as important (required) content. All children and young people should be educated about future (water) challenges and this has to be integrated in both current and new educational programmes. It is a responsibility of schools and governments worldwide to implement these needs and therefore it would be good to start by including this in an international development goal.

However, the challenge is not only to provide clean drinking water for all. It goes further than that. Several things need to be mentioned with a long term perspective towards the future. First, the unnecessary wastage of clean drinking water and contamination of surface waters. Water contamination should be prohibited at international level, including regulation, monitoring and strict consequences, so that we can strive to achieve a business model in which reusing, recycling and processing waste and waste water will soon be cheaper than discharging it and contaminating the natural environment. This is something that should no longer be accepted in the 21st century, and we should seriously increase the severity of international measures. A decline in unnecessary waste will be accompanied by more awareness in society. In addition, true pricing of this essential resource must be looked into – this is something we do not talk about yet and will raise very new questions.

Finally, we are facing challenges concerning climate change and rising sea levels, which will likely cause major problems all around the world, requiring good water management and solutions to adapt to changing circumstances. Expert countries such as the Netherlands should exchange their technologies and share solutions to be applied in other parts of the world. We need to fight the great challenges of our times together, so international, cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder partnerships are highly recommended (also in the extension of decisions made regarding the global development agenda during the High Level meeting in Monrovia, February 1st 2013) to find, implement and scale-up solutions for a safer society worldwide.

We have many water issues to deal with, and will have even more in the future, but if we focus on partnerships, awareness-raising, sustainable education and international goals and regulations to better manage water, we will definitely be moving forward in achieving and improving our goals for a better, more just and sustainable world. And we should do this, because there are issues this article has not even focus on, including water wars, scarcity and all the other aspects that will threaten my generation and all the coming generations. We have no choice but to make water work worldwide!