H. Subramaniam
June 13, 2016

Almost half of the world's workers or around 1.5 billion people, work in water-related sectors and most of these jobs depend on water or are related to those that ensure its safe delivery. In spite of this, a large number of these continue to be unrecognized or unprotected by basic labor rights.

This year, the World Water Day has aptly chosen "Water and Jobs" as its theme to highlight this issue. With water resources dwindling at a rapid rate globally and its predicted serious impacts on economies and livelihoods, it is an appropriate time to understand this under-reported subject. The theme focuses on how enough quantity and quality of water can change people's lives and livelihoods, and transform societies and economies.

Water related work and livelihoods continue to be threatened in India due to rising water scarcity, exploitation of available water resources due to urbanization and industrialization. Poor water quality leads to health threats and financial burden. Indifference and gradual neglect, encroachment and death of water bodies such as rivers, lakes, wetlands has a huge societal impact. The current agricultural crisis faced by the country, as well as other water related occupations in the unorganized sector such as fisheries and allied industries, construction related activities etc. is a good evidence of this concern. The livelihoods and survival of marginalized communities such as small farmers, women in farming, traditional and small fisher-folk, unorganized workers in the agricultural and industrial sector is under threat as they do not have any other systems of support in times of crisis.

Lack of adequate quantity and quality of water impacts the economy and livelihoods not only in a monetary manner but also by increasing the work burden, influencing poor health and sanitation outcomes, contributing to malnutrition and poverty, and loss of productivity. The water and livelihood connection threatens to bring to the forefront issues related to water sharing and equity. Current models of development may not be wise, as they are based on unsustainable use of nature and its resources. It is important to use the traditional wisdom and experience of local communities to bring about development, rather than just use western concepts based on scientific theory.

It is important to involve local communities and bring their buy-in to the whole process. Their rights on their natural resources - and water is a basic natural resource - must be acknowledged and appreciated. Their cooperation must be sought in any developmental activity that may affect their livelihood and future resource.

Equally as new capital investments and asset creation is made by government, there is a need to enhance capacity and upgrade skill levels. People must be trained to operate and maintain the water assets that are created, so that they are sustainable and enhancing value. Development needs to be measured not just in financial terms, but also in aspects related to improvement in quality of life and in quality of livelihood.

If we are able to incorporate this thinking into our planning and into our resource allocation process, then the "Water and Jobs" theme this year would have been truly well served.

H Subramaniam H. Subramaniam is Editor, EverythingAboutWater magazine. He can be reached at subrah@eawater.com.

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Image Courtesy: UNESCO