Today is World Water Day. Following an initiative at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to mark March 22 of each year as the World Day for Water. The UN is marking International Decade for Action: “Water for Life” 2005-2015, calling for global action on water and water-related issues, aiming to reduce poverty and increase access to better health and sanitation.
A child stands near a water tap used for collecting water in a village in Nepal. The UN is marking 2005-2015 as Water for Life decade.
Bluepeace is concerned that, as we mark the Water Day, several islands of Maldives are plagued with a shortage of drinking water, as reported by Minivan News.
“I am very upset with the government because we need water,” said 42-year old Jameela Aboobakuru from Gaafaru. “We ran out of water, so we borrowed water from our brother. When he ran out of water we started buying bottled water imported from Male’.”
She said her 12-member family was spending US$22 a day to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking; their daily income, she added, was only US$26.
On another island, Gulhi, Ahmed Ibrahim, the island office assistant director, said islanders had been importing bottles water from the capital as well as in jerry cans.
“They are getting water somehow,” he said, “but the island needs a permanent solution to this problem like piped desalinated water.”
After the tsunami of December 2004, several aid organizations provided islands with plastic water tanks. In addition, UNICEF provided 23 desalination plants, each costing US $ 70,000 to islands affected by the tsunami. Despite community water tanks found in abundance in islands, there is no national mechanism to prepare for a dry spell or a shortage of drinking water. Some desalination plants donated to islands by aid agencies are not being used or are out of order. Bluepeace calls for a national policy and mechanism to deal with such a crisis and ensure that the people have access to safe drinking water throughout the year.
Bluepeace had in the past raised the issue of groundwater contamination, caused in most cases by untreated sewage seeping into the groundwater. This is a problem in the capital Male’ — where approximately one-third of the population lives — because of the poor design of the sewerage system. In Male’, contaminated groundwater is used by some households for washing dishes and clothes, while a few households use groundwater for bathing as piped desalinated water is too expensive. The use of septic tanks and primitive sewerage systems in other islands cause the effluent to sink into the ground, leading to contamination of the groundwater. Unlike Malé, in the other islands, majority of the households use groundwater for washing clothes, dishes and for bathing, as piped desalinated water is not available. When rainwater is depleted, during dry spells, the people drink groundwater in several islands. In fact, 25% of the people of the Maldives depend on groundwater for drinking according to State of the Environment Report 2002.
Mangroves suck up more carbon dioxide per unit area than sea phytoplankton, a key factor in global warming. Mangroves are not adequately protected in the Maldives.
On World Water Day, Bluepeace reiterates its call for preservation of freshwater ecosystems and mangroves in the Maldives. Such ecosystems are home to a number of species of plants and organisms and are important to preserve biodiversity. As Maldives embarks on a bold and ambitious plan to be carbon-neutral within 10 years, the role of mangroves in absorbing carbon dioxide should not be overlooked. Mangroves in the Maldives also protect the coastlines from erosion, and absorbed the lethal power of the tsunami in 2004, acting as a layer of protection. Atoll mangroves in the Maldives are threatened by development projects, reclamation plans, garbage disposal and introduction of alien species, among other issues.
On World Water Day, the government, media, civil society organisations, aid agencies, and other stakeholders should be thinking of ways to collaborate during the Water for Life Decade to make water a resource for poverty reduction, improving healthcare and preservation of our precious environment.