Think local on post-2015 U.N. global water-security goals – study

February 8, 2013

Policymakers debating water security must consider how the world’s most vulnerable people cope with variable access to water or the next global development goals will fail to lift rural areas out of poverty, say the authors of a new study.

Ignoring the humanitarian aspects of water security sidesteps important socio-political, economic and environmental factors related to rainfall levels, according to the report from international charity WaterAid and the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Often the term “water security” refers to global water availability shortages or reflects concerns about securing water for companies or at a national level, WaterAid’s Daniel Yeo told AlertNet.

“We’ve got all these conversations about water, but they’re quite abstract and up in the clouds,” Yeo said. “The aim is to build the scaffolding between the local level and the global international development level.”

The release of the report coincides with work by policymakers on defining new Sustainable Development Goal targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. The MDGs are eight anti-poverty targets agreed in 2000 by U.N. member states.

Researchers assessed water security issues in pastoral and agricultural areas of Ethiopia, a country dealing with a full range of water security concerns from transboundary disputes with Egypt and Sudan, to food production, sanitation and hygiene.

“It’s about making sure that discussions on water security include poverty reduction,” Yeo said. “It’s about much more than just water – it’s about how that relates to everything else that goes on.”


The study paints a powerful picture of how rainfall variability affects the ebb and flow of vital water supplies, in turn affecting work-life routines and placing the main burden of hardship on women and girls.

Women and girls are usually responsible for household water management, which means they often walk long distances to collect and carry water home in large jerrycan containers.

As a result, they fall behind on schooling, domestic tasks and agricultural work, which can create tension and lead to conflict at home.

In periods of drought, access to water supply worsens, meaning women and girls may have to travel further to collect water and so will have to work late to complete their chores.

Extreme rainfall variability on agricultural and livestock production is the biggest cause of water insecurity for most communities, leading to diversification of livelihoods or migration to better areas either temporarily or permanently, according to the report.

Drought can lead to the death of water-bearing donkeys, resulting in the loss of access to distant water sources. The death of a donkey can also mean asset and revenue loss for entrepreneurs who earn a living by transporting water.

Picture Caption: Two women walk to fetch water delivered to the town of Danan some six hundred kilometers south-east of Addis Ababa in this file picture. REUTERS/Peter Andrews

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