UNESCO water equity and the Middle East case- part 1

On the 29th March, the UNESCO Venice Office held the presentation of the Symposium on Water equity in South-East Europe and the Mediterranean with over 40 experts and representatives from 10 countries.

The goal of the UN is to improve water resources management and access to safe clean water for all, as an essential step toward eradicating poverty and sharing sustainable human rights development under fair and equitable conditions.

UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) is the only intergovernmental programme of the UN system devoted to science, education and capacity building on water. In particular, the UNESCO Regional Bureau for science and Culture in Europe based in Venice is responsible to implement IHP program in the region with the support of the UNESCO Water Family. UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) coordinates the work of 31 UN Water members and 39 Partners in producing annually the UN World Water Development Report (WWDR), fundamental to keep track of water scarcity and sustainable distribution, in accordance to SDG no. 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation”.

UNESCO is now organizing a high-level regional symposium on water equity in the Mediterranean, following the launch of 2019 WWDR “Leaving no one behind”. The symposium will examine how integrated water resources management can be promoted and aims at increasing the resiliency of the most vulnerable segments of the region’s populations to climate change and disasters. It is time to enhance synergies and understanding among stakeholders in both public and private sectors.

The evident global growing water stress indicates substantial use of water resources, with greater impacts on resource sustainability, and rising potential for conflicts among users. It has been estimated that about 4 billion people, representing nearly two-thirds of the world population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. Furthermore, the UNESCO points out that several water-related diseases, including cholera and schistosomiasis, remain widespread across many developing countries, where only 5% of domestic and urban wastewater is treated prior to its release into the environment.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, which are 90% water management related, while top oil firms spend millions into lobbying to block eco-friendly policies.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 50 liters of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met while keeping public health risks at a low level. But inequality reigns in all societies. Gender inequalities in access to water are large and persistent in many countries. According to the Human Development Index (HDI), women worldwide have a lower HDI value, on average, compared to men (up to 20%, in South Asia), which hints at the widespread impact of the inequalities affecting women (UNDP, 2016; WWDR “Leaving none behind”, Facts and figures). Three-quarters of households without access to drinking water on their premises task women and girls with the primary responsibility to collect it (UNICEF, 2016). In Sub-Saharan African countries estimated that women spend at least 16 million hours a day collecting drinking water, while men spend 6 million hours (WHO/UNICEF, 2012). Furthermore, menstrual health management is strictly connected to their access to clean water, so most women’s reproductive and sexual health needs are not being fully met in many countries, with direct impacts on the well-being of women and girls.

“Leaving none behind” is all about inequalities. The most discriminated suffer water scarcity more than anyone, of course.

Away from home, refugees and internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, often faced with barriers to access basic water supply and sanitation. By the end of 2017, an unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of conflict, persecution, or human rights violations (UNHCR, 2018). While indigenous peoples number about 370 million, accounting for about 5% of the global population. They are over-represented among the poor, illiterate and unemployed. Even in developed countries, indigenous peoples consistently lag behind the non-indigenous population in terms of access to water supply and sanitation services.

“Improving water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in education institutions can have significant positive effects on health and education outcomes. Improved facilities, coupled with hygiene education, can also reduce absenteeism and increase demand for education, particularly among adolescent girls, who may drop out due to a lack of girls-only toilet facilities” (UNESCO 2016)

Clara Palmisano