“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry” – Thomas Fuller.
On March 22, 2021, World Water Day was observed on various platforms across the globe. The World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the global water crisis, and a core focus of the observance is to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. The theme of World Water Day 2021 is valuing water. The value of water is much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource. SDG 6 is to ensure water and sanitation for all. Without a comprehensive understanding of water’s true, multidimensional value, we will be unable to safeguard this critical resource for the benefit of everyone.
1.UN World Water Development Report:
The United Nations World Water Development Report (UN WWDR) is an annual and thematic report that focuses on different strategic water issues each year and aims to provide decision-makers with the tools to implement sustainable use of our water resources. The development of the UN WWDR, coordinated by the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), is a joint effort of the UN agencies and entities which make up UN-Water, working in partnership with governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders.
Those who control how water is valued control how it is used. Values are a central aspect of power and equity in water resources governance. The failure to fully value water in all its different uses is considered a root cause, or a symptom, of the political neglect of water and its mismanagement. All too often, the value of water, or its full suite of multiple values, is not prominent in decision-making at all. Whilst the term ‘value’ and the process of ‘valuation’ are well defined, there are several different views and perspectives of what ‘value’ specifically means to various user groups and stakeholders. There are also different methods for calculating value and different metrics to express it.
Differences in the way water is valued occur not only between stakeholder groups but are widespread within them. These divergent perspectives on water value and the best ways to calculate and express it, coupled with limited knowledge of the actual resource, present a challenging landscape for rapid improvements in valuing water. It is, for example, futile to attempt to quantitatively compare the value of water for domestic use, the human right to water, customary or religious beliefs, and the value of maintaining flows to preserve biodiversity. The 2021 edition groups current methodologies and approaches to the valuation of water into five interrelated perspectives: valuing water sources, in situ water resources and ecosystems; valuing water infrastructure for water storage, use, reuse or supply augmentation; valuing water services, mainly drinking water, sanitation and related human health aspects; valuing water as an input to production and socio-economic activity, such as food and agriculture, energy and industry, business and employment; and other socio-cultural values of water, including recreational, cultural and spiritual attributes.
2. Water status in Meghalaya:
In 2016, a news item as reported in Al Jazeera on the topic entitled “India: ‘World’s wettest place’ suffers water shortage” states that Cherrapunji which usually receives heavy rains, has witnessed a decline over the past decades (Bhattacharjee). In 1861, it created a world record with 22,987mm of rainfall in a year, while more than 150 years later, it has dropped down to average annual rainfall of 11,430mm. Deforestation, population growth, water supply system and drought were the key explanation that was highlighted at that point of time.
Climate change is a major problem. Water will be the defining crisis of the 21st century, a crisis that we are not seeing the writing on the wall. Mawphlang, the only source of water in Shillong should be well protected. Stone quarrying has had a destructive influence on Shillong. With limited recharge of groundwater and surface water, it becomes important to have a comprehensive water management policy. Management of water at the local and government level is found wanting. The water crisis is life-threatening and Shillong today is in danger. It may not exist if we are to continue our ways. The Meghalaya Water Foundation (MWF) concluded that people as users must be part of the solution and be at the centre of the work of MWF. Not to overemphasise the technical solutions, there is the people side of the water aspect that we need to remind ourselves. MFW hopes that it can be a bridge-builder to connect people from all walks of life to come up with solutions to solve the water crisis. There is also the importance of the ethics of managing the water cycle and we must not look out for self-interest only. It is important that people in Meghalaya must be water keeper.
The approach taken by Meghalaya with regard to water policy will hopefully create ripple effects in other states in the face of the worrying water crisis that we are confronted with. In light of the critical water shortage in Southern regions like Chennai, the need to adopt State Water Policies is urgent. Community participation and proportional responsibility are key to any policy that aims for sustainable development today.
3.Draft Integrated State Water Policy, Meghalaya:
The draft Integrated State Water Policy, Meghalaya initiated by the Department of Water Resources, Government of Meghalaya with an aim to achieve sustainable development, management and use of water resources with community participation. With the implementation of the State Water Policy, it hopes to improve the health, the livelihood and at the same time reduce vulnerability among the people. It will also provide good governance for present and future generations through integrated water resources management and environmental sustainability. Key issues such as the protection of catchment areas and river pollution have also been outlined in the policy. Community participation is what the government is looking for in trying to reach out to the villages with this policy. The government proposed setting up committees at the village level and the issue of groundwater will also be catered.
The rationale for having a water policy in the State is to protect the State’s natural assets. Considering the multiple and competing needs and usages of water, water resources must be managed in an integrated and holistic manner, where the various social, economic and environmental needs are balanced and met in an equitable and sustainable manner. In addition, the increasing expectations of people to have physical access to sufficient quality water for the household, economic and livelihood opportunities, warrants a new approach towards governance, development and management of water resources in the State. With rising needs, aspirations and the impact of climate change, the availability of utilizable water in future, will be under further severe strains with the possibility of increased water conflicts among different user groups. The upsurge in consumptive usages and contamination of water bodies by upstream users is also increasing the possibility of water conflicts between upstream and downstream users.
Lack of sufficient storage capacity of water and poor water management practices leads to seasonal water shortage and flash floods in some parts of the State. Low public awareness about the overall scarcity and economic value of water also results in wastage and inefficient use. Further, lack of awareness about sanitation and hygiene especially in the rural areas is leading to contamination of water resources and increased disease burden on local communities. The value of water is profound and complex. There is no aspect of sustainable development that does not fundamentally rely upon it. The problem is we do take things for granted. To be honest, we don’t realize the exact extent of this issue until we start researching it. Although the earth is made mostly of water, approximately 71%, the fact remains that only less than 1% of the earth’s water is usable to us. The rest of the water is stored in the sea, frozen in icecaps and floating around in the atmosphere. There is a lot to be done through infrastructure, yet, we the general public, can do more to make this world be water efficient.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])