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Water and sustainable development

Mar 21,2015 - Last updated at Mar 21,2015

Today’s World Water Day is putting the spotlight on water and sustainable development.

The issue is very timely as the world community is transiting from the Millennium Development Goals to the new Sustainable Development Goals, up for adoption during the UN General Assembly in September this year.

We all use water, all the time. We use it for cleaning, washing and cooking, personal hygiene and for drinking.

Water is an essential resource that is used to energise all sectors of society, from basic food production to advanced industrial technologies.

With growing demand and pollution challenges, in parallel with increasing water scarcity, there is clearly a need to put water in focus for sustainable development.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the World Economic Forum this year identified water as the number one global risk.

Water scarcity, lack of sanitation and resulting obstacles to development constitute major challenges for the entire Middle East and North Africa region.

Jordanians know well the challenges that water scarcity brings to a country. Jordan is currently experiencing increased pressure on water resources, including from a growing population and hosting of a large number of refugees.

Sweden is a strong supporter of action on water and sustainable development. It supports a new Sustainable Development Goal on water to address challenges in a comprehensive way.

Over the last decade, Sweden has been working actively to support efforts to improve regional water management and to meet consequences of climate change in the MENA region.

In the Arab region alone it is estimated that over 60 million people lack access to drinking water and over 70 million people lack access to adequate sanitation.

These figures represent close to 20 per cent of the population.

In the regional context, limited access to drinking water and lack of adequate sanitation are key challenges for the growing refugee population in Syria and neighbouring countries.

Investment in improved access to safe water and sanitation will provide substantial benefits.

With improved sanitation, loss of life due to diarrhoeal diseases will go down. Children, who too often need to stay at home because of disease, would be having more days in school, thus improving their chances of getting a good education.

Another key dimension of water and sustainability relates to ecosystems and the crucial role of water for their functioning.

Key resources that ecosystems provide are fish production, flood protection, wastewater treatment, as well as habitat for animal life.

Without securing adequate management of these fragile resources, we gamble with the well-being of our societies — in the present as well as in the future.

Also, water and energy are mutually dependant. 

Billions of litres of water are needed to cool thermal power stations.

In most countries, including Jordan, a large share of the electricity production is used to pump water to populated areas.

We need to focus more on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, as well as developing better systems for recycling of water.

Irrigation is the main user of water worldwide, accounting for around 70 to 80 per cent of freshwater use.

The quantity of water we use to produce food is substantial. A kilo of rice requires 3,500-4,000 litres of water and to produce a kilo of beef, a staggering 15,000 to 20,000 litres of water are needed.

With a growing population — in many parts of this region — water needs will continue to go up.

Improvement of supply chain efficiency, decrease of food waste and a less meat-intensive diet are some ways we can all contribute to more efficient water use.

For the MENA region, increased regional trade has been identified as a key factor for improving efficiency and food security.

Sweden is actively supporting United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) in its programme for improving water and food security at regional level.

Water is also a question of equitable sharing of the resources. It involves equality among nations, between rich and poor, between urban and rural populations as well as between sexes.

Climate change is one risk to increasing equality among nations.

Increased frequency of droughts means less water available for those in need. This is why Sweden supports UNESCWA in developing climate change and water resources modelling for the Arab world.

Another key equality question is the one between men and women.

Women around the world spend about 200 million hours carrying water for their households. Every day.

The burden to provide water for the family falls disproportionally on women and girls.

This time could be spent better on income-generating activities, attending school or doing homework.

At the same time, decisions about water are more often taken by men. This way, the decision-making process is missing an important input from women who are actually the ones working with water.

In the Syrian crisis context, this situation is further exacerbated as, for example, sanitation facilities in refugee camps put women and girls at risk of harassment and even rape.

Finally, water is key to peace and security.

Regional cooperation on shared water resources and shared environmental problems has obvious technical and economic benefits.

But as a vehicle for strengthened relations between neighbouring countries, such cooperation can also be a strong driver for peace.

In order to achieve this goal, states need to interact, negotiate and ultimately agree on water-sharing principles and procedures on equal terms.

This is why Sweden supports reinforced cooperation on the rehabilitation of the Jordan River between Jordan, and Palestine and Israel.

In this regard, I welcome the recent agreement between Israel and Jordan on the Red Sea-Dead Sea project. I also hope for a rapid implementation of the earlier agreement on increased water provision for Palestine.

Without comprehensive management and use of water resources, sustainable development is not possible.

We all need to improve the manner in which we manage water, food and energy in our lives, as individuals and as citizens, at local, regional and global levels.

Water is essential for development, for equality, for peace and security, and for all people to be able to lead a dignified life.

Sweden is committed to continue supporting improved management of water for sustainable development at global level as well as in the MENA region. 

The writer is Sweden’s ambassador to Jordan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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