World Water Day 2016

Water and Jobs

Message from the Director General

ICIMOD joins the world in celebrating World Water Day on 22 March 2016 for many good reasons. As a mountain organization, we cannot overstate the importance of water in sustaining the lives and livelihood of mountain people and their downstream neighbours. This resonates clearly with this year’s theme of ‘Water and Jobs’.  According to UN Water over half of all jobs are dependent on water.

In our mountain context, crop cultivation, fishing, animal husbandry, forestry, mining, and hydropower generation are enabled by water. Most jobs in manufacturing and service sectors, such as agro-processing and tourism, depend on water to create jobs, given that water is a key input in the production and value generation process.  

However all too often water is a key risk factor for many people who fear the devastating affect of floods and droughts. And in all too many places, the  lack of water constrains agriculture and industries. We need to change this situation so that water is a driver of development and employment.

I often visit remote mountain areas and local communities tell me that water sources are dwindling and putting unprecedented pressure on their livelihoods. For instance, in much of the mid hills in the Himalayas, springs are drying up and spring-fed irrigation systems are being abandoned forcing farmers to look for alternatives. In the upper reaches of the Indus, surging glaciers are jeopardizing centuries-old glacier-fed irrigation systems. In downstream areas, an increase in the frequency of water-related hazards is threatening livelihoods. In these places, our challenge is to manage water judiciously so that water-based livelihoods are profitable and sustainable in the long run. ICIMOD works with local communities to understand how changes in water regimes affect livelihoods and to frame suitable responses to cope with water-related challenges.

It is also promising that good management of water is bringing new opportunities and jobs. Dotted throughout the mid hills of Nepal are low-cost plastic greenhouses where farmers are growing high-value vegetable crops, like cucumbers and tomatoes, for the hotel industry; this is made possible by appropriate technologies such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. In other places, farmers are growing mountain niche crops like kiwi fruit, mushrooms, coffee, and nuts, again facilitated by proper water management and market value chains. In the foothills and plains, new water extraction technologies, like solar pumps, have the potential to offer access to clean energy, improve irrigation, and generate jobs. Water also plays an important role in tourism; for example, Inlay Lake in Myanmar, Fewa Lake in Pokhara, and Dal Lake in Srinagar offer magnificent touristic opportunities and create hundreds of jobs for local people. 

A less direct link between water and jobs is migration. Young men and women are migrating from the mountains in search of jobs elsewhere. They send remittances back home, which help their families live a better life. Many, when asked, say that they would come back home if they had access to better jobs or if agriculture was profitable. And, indeed, many of these migrant labour families invest in agricultural land and equipment and eventually set up farms, on which they use the latest technologies that they have encountered in their foreign jobs. ICIMOD, through its various programmes, targets these migrant families and imparts basic skills like financial literacy and gives them access to new technologies to help them create new jobs – jobs which are invariably linked to water. 

In burgeoning urban centres in the hills and mountains, formal municipalities face the dual challenge of ensuring adequate and safe water for their citizens and then safely disposing off the wastewater generated. To meet this need, informal players like private water tankers and wastewater irrigators in peri-urban areas have come up, providing goods and services, as well as creating jobs. But the sheer magnitude of the problems means that governments need to invest more and create jobs in the urban water and sanitation sectors. ICIMOD, together with its partners, is currently undertaking studies in several hill and mountain cities to understand the extent of urban water problems and come up with ways of solving them. Through its Himalayan University Consortium, ICIMOD is trying to influence local universities to adapt their curriculum to reflect mountain specificities and train students to become mountain professionals dedicated to the cause of mountain development. 

Mountains, as water towers, have immense potential to create water-related jobs and in the process, improve the lives and livelihoods of mountain people. I hope you will join us at ICIMOD to pledge to help our mountain sisters and brothers to create and sustain jobs through the judicious use of water and through the introduction of appropriate technologies and institutions to ensure that these jobs are profitable and sustainable in the long run. 

Wishing you all a Happy World Water Day. 

David