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JUSTIN ZUCCON | MARLO HAYDEN-LUCK | LIANE ALI-HASSAN
World Water Day was marked on March 22. This annual initiative, spearheaded by United Nations Water, aims to raise awareness of the challenges that billions of citizens face every day, trying to “sustainably manage water and sanitation” within their communities.
“No one gets left behind” is this year’s theme. Inclusivity of the underrepresented and marginalized members of society is an integral piece of improving clean water accessibility and equitable distribution of water resources. This theme coincides with one of the pillars of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: sharing the benefits of water development to all citizens around the world.
Water in Canada
So how was the issue of water accessibility, sustainability, and equality addressed by Canadians this year? A panel was held in Montreal to discuss the importance of defending water as a basic human right, while others rallied together in British Columbia to discuss the challenges of commercializing water resources. As well, elementary teachers in Ontario taught students about oceans, marine science, and water-related careers in STEM.
Given the Halifax’s proximity with the Atlantic Ocean, it is no surprise water is a hot topic here as well, particularly in the context of technology and innovation. Organizations like the Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship and Dalhousie University’s Centre for Water Resources Studies, as well as a $153-million investment from the federal government announced in November 2018, are attracting top-notch water researchers, engineers, technologists, and entrepreneurs to the region and helping turn the HRM into a “ocean supercluster.”
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains stated the Ocean Supercluster Project will add approximately 3,000 new jobs to the Maritimes and generate an additional $14 billion for Canada’s GDP over the next decade.
While access to safe drinking water is a reality for the vast majority of Canadians, accessibility is becoming a major issue in many developing countries.
Billions of people struggle to obtain clean, reliable sources of water in their homes, schools, and places of work. Unequal distribution of water and inadequate infrastructure exacerbate societal inequalities and lead to higher rates of marginalization.
Water accessibility and hygiene disproportionately affect women and young girls in emerging nations. Women in these countries are generally responsible for managing household water supplies, including obtaining water, purifying it, and using it for other domestic purposes like cooking and cleaning. Their preoccupation with ensuring their families have daily access to water is preventing some women and their female children from attending school and from pursuing other occupations. As such, water is a central component of achieving greater gender equity.
While we are witnessing an increase in the number of women appointed as water and environment ministers across the world, there is still a lot of work to be done to empower women through improving water and sanitation policies and programs.
Water in emerging markets
The UN projects that the global population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030. With depletion in water resources increasing at an alarming pace, emerging markets are at a crucial nexus given their high population growth, degree of income and gender inequality, and susceptibility to natural disasters.
As water is often a major input for agricultural and industrial processes, governments in these countries are forced to make trade-offs between water sustainability and economic growth. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs and social activists, however, do not see this issue as a zero-sum game and are creating innovative, eco-friendly solutions to preserve existing water supplies, remediate polluted ones, and build infrastructure to improve long-term sustainability. These positive developments offer a glimmer of hope for future generations.