Taking Care of Water, a Challenge We Have to Win

19 December 2023 - // Features
Gloria Borrego
Responsible for management and administration at Manare.

Amidst the strides of last century’s progress, water has been often underestimated.

A human is capable of surviving weeks without eating, but would only live for a few days without water. And that transparent liquid that gushes out of your tap is a treasure that comes in drops in another place. With the social and economic development of the last centuries, water has been largely forgotten. However, we know that our existence depends on it. 

Drinking water, an increasingly scarce vital resource

The quality of the water has been deteriorating exponentially. Intensive farming, industry, and consumption models have contributed to this at breakneck speed. In addition to the adverse conditions of arid climates, human activity results in pollution, the acceleration of climate change, and the overexploitation of resources. Have you ever stopped to think that the problem may be much closer than you imagined and the stakes much higher?

It is not necessary to travel many kilometers to observe the consequences of all these practices. Every year more Spanish municipalities warn their neighbors that the tap water is not potable. At the end of 2022, the environmental organization Ecologistas en Acción highlighted in their report ‘Estudio del contenido en nitratos de las aguas de consumo humano’ (‘Study of the nitrate content of water for human consumption’) that more than a million people in 197 Spanish municipalities drink water contaminated by nitrates. This situation mainly affects small towns in sparsely populated or emptied areas (90 of these towns have fewer than 500 inhabitants) and larger municipalities such as Ciutadella or Teruel. 

The cause is clear: intensive macro-farms and their use of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture. In Puebla de la Reina, Badajoz, there are 710 inhabitants and 876,448 farm animals live, of which 845,836 are poultry. In Almazán, Soria, there are 5,411 people and 121,543 pigs.

Student from the School in a manually dug well. Photo: Michael Ndosi

The water wars

In 1995, World Bank president Ismail Serageldin said: “If the wars of the 20th century were fought for oil, the wars of the next century will be for water”. And the more we venture into the 21st century, the more we realize how true Seragedin’s words are.  

Water has indeed been the cause of fighting and wars for thousands of years. The first water war occurred in 2500 BC in Mesopotamia, when the king of Lagash built canals to divert the river from Umma, near present-day Baghdad. Currently, more and more countries are suffering from water scarcity or pollution, which has caused these struggles to multiply exponentially and spread as wildfire.

In the last 22 years, more than 1,000 water conflicts have occurred worldwide, according to data from the Pacific Institute, a non-profit organization that studies the global water situation. A figure that contains many threatened lives, many broken families, and thousands of deceased.

A transversal and global challenge

Regardless of purchasing power, birthplace, or religion, everyone needs access to clean water to live. The problems related to water resources are diverse, and that is why joint work is essential for the solution of each case to reach all territories. Involved stakeholders must join forces and capacities to give water the value it really has and make responsible use of it. 

Alarming data reflects the urgency of the need to cooperate at the international level and understand water as the vital and scarce water is:

  • Somalia has spent several years without rain. This is the worst drought in the last 40 years and between January 2021 and September 2022, more than a million Somalis have had to emigrate and abandon their homes in search of food and water to survive, according to UNHCR. A region where jihadist militias control large areas, and demand high taxes from local farmers for the use of land and water resources. 
  • In Nigeria, faced with a decline in fertile land, the Fulani herders of the north had to descend to the south and invade the farmers’ lands. This conflict has claimed more than 10,000 lives so far, according to Amnesty International. 
  • In India, the privatization of water generates strong conflicts. Dalits experience threats and violence when they try to access water, and their water sources are frequently intentionally contaminated. 
  • Egypt and Ethiopia clash over the Nile. Following the construction of the Great Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, Egypt has seen its sovereignty over the river’s resources threatened. 
  • The confrontation between Bolivia and Chile over the management of the Silala waters began in 1908 when Bolivia accused Chile of diverting water through artificial channels. In December 2022, the International Court of Justice ended more than 100 years of disputes, noting that they are international territorial waters and that both countries have access. 

These are just some of the water-related points of contention around the world, but they serve to confirm that we are facing a global problem that transcends borders.

Students filling buckets with water from a small stream. Photo: Michael Ndosi

Projects that fight for change

Despite the fact that governments and the business world have not prioritized water in their decisions, for decades there have been movements and social actors working on issues related to this scarce and precious resource.

The Maji Safi (meaning ‘safe water’ in Swahili) Project was developed by the NGO Manare and AfrikAmiga, two non-profit Spanish institutions that seek to provide sufficient and safe water for the 400 students of the Engejisosia primary school in northern Tanzania by building a well and repairing the rainwater harvesting system.

This project will include the necessary training and monitoring so that the impact of the action is long-term, tangible, and sustainable. What may seem like a grain of sand in the desert, an isolated action, is the confirmation that the fight has begun, that it is no longer time to lament, that it is necessary to collaborate, and that if today they are the ones who live without the most important resource, tomorrow it could be you. 

Reversing the current trend is an obligation that we face as a society to guarantee access to safe water in the future.

We must think about what really matters and fight so that all people can count on it to have the opportunity to live with health and dignity at any cardinal point of the planet.

If, after reading this article, you want to be part of this change that started small but that together will become immense contact www.manare.org.

Gloria Borrego
Responsible for management and administration at Manare.

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