If water could create jobs, would there be unemployment?

A billion people still drink contaminated water and another 2.3 billion suffer from its shortage...

Ehtesham Shahid
Ehtesham Shahid
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The UN World Water Day, which was marked on March 22, threw up a lot of interesting facts and figures. We were told that 663 million people around the world, one in every nine, don’t have access to safe drinkable water. We also found out that a one-minute shower with a conventional showerhead uses more water (around 5 gallons) than most people in sub-Saharan Africa use for drinking and hygiene purposes all day.

The usual suspects, the consumerist and emerging middle classes, also stood exposed once again for their tendency to waste. An average American uses 80-100 gallons of water a day, which is 10 times more than the average person in a rural community in sub-Saharan Africa. On a more serious note, Thomson Reuters Foundation data revealed that 66 children die from diarrhea every hour and, in Africa and Asia, women walk around 6km every day carrying water that weighs more than a 40” flat screen television.

Without getting into a holier-than-thou mode, one can simply say that it makes sense for those leading comfortable lives, anywhere in the world, to spare a thought for others who are not so fortunate when it comes to access to water. This is becoming increasingly important because the world’s population has almost tripled since 1950 but water consumption has increased six-fold since then. A billion people still drink contaminated water and another 2.3 billion suffer from its shortage.

One doesn’t have to be a scientist to understand that in the absence of adequate water farm lands can get parched and thereby hamper food security. According to International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), agriculture is a thirsty business, with irrigation alone accounting for about 70 percent of freshwater withdrawals.

It makes sense for those leading comfortable lives, anywhere in the world, to spare a thought for others who are not so fortunate when it comes to access to water

Ehtesham Shahid

Scarcity of water challenges industries around the world. Studies suggest that rising population and economic development have caused an increased demand for freshwater supplies. Scarcer water also creates new challenges for energy supply because coal, oil, gas, and electricity production can require massive amounts of freshwater. The interdependency has come to be known as the “water-energy nexus”.

Water and jobs

A more thought-provoking report was released by United Nations, coinciding with the World Water Day. It admitted that people who have least access to water and sanitation are usually the most likely to have poor access to health care and stable jobs, thus feeding the cycle of poverty. The report also admitted that equality gaps persist between urban and rural dwellers, across genders, and between the richest and poorest segments of the population.

Yet, in this rather comprehensive report, UN-Water – the agency coordination mechanism for freshwater related issues – chose to link water security with job creation. According to the agency, the shift to a sustainable, greener economy, in which the central role of water is fully recognized, leads to the creation of more jobs and much greater social inclusion.

It suggests how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods - and even transform societies and economies. In other words, water investments are a necessary enabling condition for economic growth, jobs and reducing inequalities. Doesn’t that sound too far-fetched and may be even too good to be true?

If this was such an impeccable formula, why didn’t it dawn on us early enough? If water could be the raw material for employment generation, it should have been put to practice long ago and we must already be benefiting from it. This is simply because there has never been any question about its supply as well as demand. We seem to have been so dependent on water for survival that we hardly looked at it as a commodity that can create jobs, build industries and sustain living.

Whichever way one looks at it, there is no escaping our dependence on water as a vital resource. In an ideal world, water would benefit all humankind, across geographical boundaries, and help preserve the environment. No one would suffer as a result of its scarcity, wastage or uneven distribution. That’s the theory, anyway.
Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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