World Water Week: water and jobs


September 2nd, 2016

‘Water and jobs’ is the theme of World Water Week this week and at Practical Action it’s a focus that we welcome because water is so integral to employment.

The theme is focusing on how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies.

Millions of water related jobs ensure that water is made available every day for domestic use, for removing our wastes, as well as for sustaining our production of food, energy and other goods and functions.

But a lack of skilled water workers, due to a lack of investment in managing jobs in the sector, is holding back progress towards a world where everyone has access to safe water. Millions of people who work in water are often not recognized or even protected by basic labour rights. This needs to change.

At the same time the daily livelihoods of millions of people depend on well-functioning and well-managed water systems.

Growing their way out of poverty with water

Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje irrigate their farm using power from a micro-hydro scheme.

Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje irrigate their farm using power from a micro-hydro scheme.

In Zimbabwe, farmers like Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje have struggled to grow enough produce even to sustain their families as their fields are left barren by drought.

They try to irrigate their land using pumps powered by diesel engines but they are expensive to operate and maintain and when they stop working, families are left in serious poverty and hunger.

“We were failing to fully utilise our plot because of the faulty and old irrigation system that we had,” said Lindiwe.

We worked with Oxfam on a project to help families survive future droughts, put food on their tables and sell surplus crops to earn a living by powering irrigation schemes through micro-hydro and solar-powered mini grids.

As a result, Lindiwe said: “We realised a good income from the sale of the sugar beans and this has enabled us to send our children to school, buy food for the family and clothes for everyone.”

Improving health and saving time

For a poor person with no access to safe water at home, buying water can be a huge drain on their meagre salary. Many people have no choice but to compromise their health and earning potential by spending hours each day walking miles to collect water from unsafe sources. They are often sick from this water which impacts on their ability to work.

Eva Nyamogo at the water kiosk she helped to install in Kitale, Kenya - giving her community clean water every day.

Eva Nyamogo at the water kiosk she helped to install in Kitale, Kenya – giving her community clean water every day.

We’ve been working with people like Eva Nyamogo in Kitale, Kenya – training and empowering her to work with her community and council to improve access to safe water and sanitation. Before, they had no access to clean drinking water. She said that people would have to walk four miles, every day; just to collect water from the stream, which was unsafe. People were often unwell and she explained that “they thought it was normal to be sick.” The community now have access to a water kiosk nearby providing clean water every day.

Dying for a drink in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, every day 20 million people are drinking water contaminated with naturally-occurring arsenic. Each year 46,000 of them die.

Terminal illnesses caused by arsenic poisoning include liver, kidney, bladder and skin cancer, lung disease, nerve damage and cardiovascular disease.

The vast majority of people who suffer from arsenic poisoning live in poor rural communities and drink from shallow tube wells, built in the 1970s. Many of the wells have not been tested for arsenic and people using them have a choice between paying for bottled drinking water, which is prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of families, or take the risk of drinking from an untested source.

With your support we can help more people like Liza, who are living amongst the effects of contaminated water.

With your support we can help more people like Liza, who are living amongst the effects of contaminated water.

Liza Akhter, 21, from Bagerhat said: “We are surrounded by water, but there is no water for drinking. This area is arsenic affected. If you collect water from the shallow wells then you would get arsenic water.

“I have heard there are people who have been suffering from diseases caused by arsenic. The thing about arsenic is you get poisoned slowly so you don’t know who has been affected around you already.”

Practical Action launched its new project after staff witnessed people they work with battling symptoms of arsenic poisoning, but unaware of what was causing their illness, and powerless to do much about it when they were.
With your help, we are:
• Providing clean and safe drinking water – simple technologies such as arsenic removal plants and rainwater harvesting can help communities access clean water
• Educating people on the health implications of drinking contaminated water
• Testing water points so that communities can see which water is contaminated

If we are to achieve the Global Goal of water, sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030, or indeed Global Goals on decent work and economic growth, on health for all, we need to recognise that better water for all workers is essential – and now is the time to act.

With your support we can help more people like Liza access safe, clean water.

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