By Phyllis Wakiaga
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mikhail Gorbachev said, “We must treat water as if it were the most precious thing in the world, the most valuable natural resource. Be economical with water, don’t waste it. We still have time to do something about this problem before it is too late.”
Unfortunately, most of us do not think of how much water we waste daily. A task as simple as watering plants on a windy day, or running water until the faucet cools for that cold glass of water, leads to a considerable amount of wastage.
Additionally, a lot of rainwater goes to waste during the rainy season because we, as a country, have little or no mechanisms to harvest large amounts.
The United Nations estimates that water use has increased twice more than the global population growth, and that an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity by 2030. The projected situation gets more dire – during the same period, it is expected that two-thirds of the world’s population, including 75 – 250 million people in Africa, shall live in regions with high water stress.
Bearing these grim statistics in mind, just how much water does the world waste?
Save the Water Organization estimates that the average American uses approximately 80-100 gallons (300-378 litres) of water a day. Here in Kenya, water consumption averages about 40 litres per capita per day (lcd), with homes in Mombasa and Nairobi consuming the most at 49.8 litres Icd and 37.3 lcd respectively. (Waterfund).
Two years ago, South Africa experienced its worst water crisis in decades. Its legislative capital, Cape Town, was approaching Day Zero – water supplies were extremely low that taps were almost turned off. Whereas the city declared the water crisis a national emergency in 2018, its dams are currently overflowing. Theewaterskloof Dam, Cape Town’s largest water supplier has seen an increase in dam levels, from 11% in March 2018 to 100% in October 2020.
This was achieved through the city’s management strategies and the public’s water-saving efforts, in addition to increased amounts of rainfall. Cape Town’s residents reused water, whilst city authorities enforced limits on activities that require large amounts of the resource (filling pools, washing cars and watering gardens at night).
Just like South Africa, the world can avert a global water crisis by putting in place measures to reduce the amount of water consumption, through its efficient use. This is especially because we are in the last decade of action for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and more specifically, 6 on clean water and sanitation for all.
We can realize this through water efficiency, conservation and integrated water resources management.
Water efficiency involves using water in smarter, more innovative ways, by focusing on changing behaviour, through simple ways such as turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or replacing leaking pipes. In industry, it entails replacing old machines with new ones, that save on both water and energy. Conservation calls for reducing its use through simple habits such as taking shorter showers, repairing leaks as well as recycling and reusing water, among others. For industry, it can be achieved through reusing and recycling, maintenance, upgrading equipment and auditing water use.
Water efficiency in industry has endless benefits. It minimizes carbon footprint and water treatment costs; reduces pressure on natural sources of water; increases access to water, for example, during the dry season, among others. Most importantly, efficiency and conservation increase resilience in climate change mitigation, through environmental conservation.
As we head into the future, the challenge we face is how to effectively conserve and manage the water we have. While our need for water increases as populations rise, our water supply does not. How we consume water currently has a direct effect on the amount of clean, safe water that shall be available for future generations. Therefore, we all have a social responsibility to use it wisely.
The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org