GOAL 6 – clean water and sanitation

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

 

Water covers 70% of our planet. Yet only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, two-thirds of which is located in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our use. Freshwater habitats—lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands and aquifers—therefore account for less than 1% of the planet’s total surface area. Incredibly, they support more than 100,000 species—10% of all known animals and about 50% of all known fish species. Due to human development, pollution, and climate change they are now among the most endangered habitats in the world. Fewer than 70 of the world’s 177 longest rivers remain free of man-made obstructions, such as dams. Water pollution is impacting water quality and decreasing water availability in a world that has lost 70% of its wetlands over the last century. This is a particular concern because wetlands clean the water of chemicals and other pollutants.

Freshwater fish provide protein for the nutritional equivalent of 158 million people around the world. However, 90% of fish caught worldwide are harvested from rivers facing higher-than-average levels of environmental stress from chemical pollution, invasive species, land use change, and other human factors. In the past 25 years, the amount of fresh water available per head of population worldwide has fallen by 26% while the human population has risen by 35%.

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Eight hundred and forty-four million people lack basic water services; 4.5 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation and 892 million still practice open defecation. Without a clean source of fresh water, people are exposed to diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever. Two million people, mostly children, die each year from water-borne diseases alone. More than 4 billion people across the globe face severe water scarcity as a result of withdrawing more water than is sustainable. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.

Polluted water can lead to sickness, disease, infections, deformities and even death among people, animals, and plant life. Just as troubling, agricultural run-off into rivers, streams, and groundwater of manure, fertilizers, and pesticides, logging, and the consumption and dumping of cleaning solvents, sewage, and garbage are ending up in the rivers and oceans. Run-off leads to coastal dead zones where no marine life can live because the environment is hypoxic—it has no oxygen. These areas have quadrupled since 1950 in aggregate to roughly the size of the European Union. Millions of marine animals die each year in these areas, adversely affecting the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest people and leading to food insecurity. Around 25% of the world’s drinking water comes from underground (karst) aquifers, which are some of the most vulnerable landscapes on the planet. Without potable water, communities and their animals are prone to disease, famine, wildfires, malnutrition, mass migration, and social unrest.

Agriculture

Animal agriculture is one of the leading cause of global warming, water pollution, species extinction, ocean dead zones, habitat destruction, human health problems, and the suffering of billions of animals a year.

Agricultural production accounts for 92% to the global water footprint of humanity. The production of 1kg of beef requires over 15,000 liters of water.

The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. Therefore, from a freshwater resource perspective, it is substantially more efficient to obtain calories, protein, and fat through crop products than animal products.

The livestock sector is growing and intensifying faster than crop production in almost all countries and is putting further pressure on the globe’s freshwater resources. Most of the world’s poor live in the most biodiverse areas of the world, much of which is the focus of expanding industrial agricultural interests.

The production of meat and dairy products leads to an enormous loss of calories grown in fields, since cereals and oil seeds have to be cultivated to feed to animals. According to calculations of the United Nations Environment Programme, the calories that are lost by feeding cereals to animals, instead of using them directly as human food, could theoretically feed an extra 3.5 billion people.

Nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production even though beef accounts for less than 2% of the calories that are consumed throughout the world. Beef makes up 24% of the world's meat consumption yet requires 30 million square kilometers of land.

Dams

Dams are massive barriers built across rivers and streams to confine and utilize the flow of water most commonly for irrigation and generation of hydroelectricity. They erode the land by blocking the sediment load normally found in a river as it flows downstream. Without these sediments, the downstream water erodes the river’s banks and threatens surrounding biodiversity and river wildlife.

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Currently there are around 57,000 large dams obstructing the world's rivers and completely changing their circulation systems. This has dire consequences for existing ecosystems, the surrounding wildlife, marine life, and humans. The livelihoods of many millions of people also suffer because of the downstream effects of dams: the loss of fisheries and resulting food insecurity, contaminated water, decreased amounts of water, and a reduction in the fertility of farmlands and forests due to the loss of natural fertilizers. Lowering groundwater tables along a river lowers the water accessible to plant roots and to human communities drawing water from wells.  Altering the riverbed also reduces habitat for fish that spawn in river bottoms and for invertebrates. In tropical areas of the world, dam reservoirs can also spread waterborne diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis.

There is growing opposition worldwide to dams because of their efficiencies, economic costs, and the social, and ecological damage they inflict. As fisheries become an increasingly important source of food supply, more attention is being paid to the harmful effects of dams on many fish and marine mammal populations. The vast majority of large dams do not include proper bypass systems for these animals, interfering with their lifecycles, sometimes leading to extinction.

Often irrigation systems and reservoirs displace large numbers of small landholders and replace traditional farming systems with agribusiness plantations producing expensive crops for cities and for export, increasing landlessness, rural hunger, and loss of biodiversity, and river wildlife. In many if not most cases the majority of people evicted—usually poor farmers and indigenous people—are further impoverished economically and suffer cultural decline, high rates of sickness and death, and great psychological stress. In some cases, people receive no or negligible compensation for their losses.

CHALLENGES

  • Lack of business accountability, research, and monitoring in regards to major infrastructure projects that impact water sustainability.
  • Lack of political will or capacity to establish and implement necessary policy and regulatory systems.
  • Lack of effective monitoring and reporting.
  • Lack of outreach to local and civic groups, including indigenous peoples, wildlife and marine conservationists, NGOs, healthcare officials and local and regional governments by corporations and state government.
  • Insufficient policy analysis, research, and information upon which to make policy recommendations.
  • Lack of dialogue between national stakeholders impacted by water policies in neighboring states with shared resources.
  • Water sustainability, fisheries, and pollution are seldom addressed in national political discourse.
  • Too little public education around the economic toll of ecosystem and wildlife loss or threats to human health that of accompanies large dam projects.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Agricultural policy needs to reflect an understanding of food science and take into account the different water needs of various crops and farming activities.

Effective water policy must be developed at national and regional levels governing water use and pollution, pesticide and other chemicals and wastes that may affect groundwater, marshes, flood plains, and other bodies of water and their surrounding areas. An enforcement policy for these regulations which is funded sufficiently to be effective is critical to its success.

Reporting and feedback mechanisms need to be put in place and best practices shared across all sectors. Scientific research on the sustainability of national water use and policies needs to be conducted and updated in a timely manner. Impacts on water systems, availability, and quality should be routinely and thoroughly assessed. Through strict regulation and controls detrimental impacts should be prevented.

The costs of any unanticipated detrimental impacts should be borne by the polluter. Subsidies for using or detrimentally impacting waterways, water tables, and aquifers should be removed. Incentives for water-wise alternatives should be provided to farmers for opting out of using harmful pesticides.

Efforts need to be made to restore and rehabilitate damaged and lost wetland ecosystems, as well as increase urban wetlands that play a role in reducing floods, replenishing drinking water, filtering waste and providing urban green space.

Building hydroelectric dams for any purpose, including irrigation and generating electricity, needs to be seriously considered in view of alternative methods of achieving the same goals in a more economically, socially, and environmentally cost effective manner.

Local communities have been the guardians of freshwater ecosystems for generations. Their voices need to be heard and respected in the protection and management of rivers. River basin projects need to be based on demonstrable public acceptance, including the free, prior informed consent of indigenous peoples for projects on their lands. An informed civil society needs to be encouraged and empowered to participate in water policy decisions and monitoring.

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EFFECTIVE ACTION

The five key water towers (water catchment areas) in Kenya: The Mau Forest Complex, The Mount Kenya, The Aberdares, The Cherangani Hills, and Mt. Elgon are the backbone of the country's economy and provide 75% of its renewable water resources. Forest cover is closely related to water conservation. When forest cover is removed and one can see the subsequent impacts on river flow. Between 1990-2010 Kenya lost 2.8% of its forest cover to land degradation, deforestation, illegal logging, soil erosion, water scarcity, and conflict over natural resources. For the past 3 years Kenya has been facing a severe water shortage that has also made the loss of biodiversity a serious issue. Travel and tourism represent 9.7% (USD 7.4 billion) of Kenya's total GDP. Any prolonged pressure on the nation's biodiversity is a substantial economic threat to that industry. Without appropriate action scientists have warned that forest cover could be decimated within the next 50 years.

In looking to act to save these forests, the Kenyan governments faced a number of major challenges due to lack of adequate information, lack of clear boundaries, inadequate documentation of the natural resources contained in them, as well as their potential for economic and livelihood purposes.

However, recently Kenya has committed to protect 70 new water towers of the Mara and other Kenya Rivers. Title deeds illegally issued on water towers are set to be revoked. The Kenyan Water Towers Agency wants resources increased to help it protect the towers. The Environment Ministry indicates that forest cover stands at about 7.2% but Kenya has committed to increase this to 15% by 2022.

It is also looking to come up with a program to give incentives to farmers to help to diversify the tree cover on farmlands. This can be done through domestication of indigenous tree species and other high-value tree crops such as fruit trees, and retention of trees that deliver multiple ecosystem services. This program would increase forest cover and provide food security and improve livelihoods through sale of timber and other tree products.

With availability of resources, we believe that if well managed and if there is proper community participation, there will be unrivaled capacity to sustain and improve livelihoods in our water towers.
— Dr. Isaac Kalua, Chairman of the Water Towers Agency
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