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Celebrating World Water Day 2019 – Leaving no one behind

David James Molden

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Ensuring water security for all,

Access to safe drinking water is a universal human right. Water is an essential need not only for human life and health but also for improved livelihoods and thriving communities – it allows economic, social, and human development. Yet, a large percentage of the population in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), particularly women and marginalized communities, struggle for this access. Even though considerable progress has been made in the region in terms of water supply schemes, many women and girls are still compelled to daily spend hours fetching water from distant sources. The economic and social costs of this drudgery are immense, further worsening during disasters such as floods and droughts.

As the theme for World Water Day 2019 is “Leaving no one behind”, ICIMOD reaffirms its commitment to ensuring year-round, universal, and affordable access to safe drinking water and water for sanitation and productive purposes in the HKH. We are collaborating with national and sub-national governments, inter- and non-governmental organizations, and research institutions to develop resilient solutions for water security. Long-term research is ongoing on the water supply and demand situation at local and transboundary scales, and we are reaching a deeper understanding of the close relation between access to water and the high poverty rates in the HKH. The findings have recently been shared through a comprehensive, open-access report – The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment – published by Springer.

Our research and development work with partners is not confined to situational analysis. We are also actively supporting our regional member countries by providing gender-responsive resilient solutions for rural water security through collaborative action research and pilot initiatives. For example, the outcomes so far have been positive and visible, with well-documented benefits of improved water infrastructure and local governance mechanisms in the lives of thousands of women, men, and children in the southern Shan State in Myanmar and Kavre district in Nepal.

If we are to ensure water security for everyone in the HKH – leaving no one behind – ensuring the protection of freshwater ecosystems, both surface and groundwater, and their sustainable use is paramount. Of late, there is increasing concern across the entire region regarding the decreasing discharge and drying up of springs, especially in the mid-hills. The drying up of springs has a direct impact on marginalized communities, rural or urban, as they are most dependent on springs for drinking water and do not have the financial resources to purchase it. Given this widespread concern, impactful policy actions are needed to revive the springs in the HKH through the implementation of hydrogeological science-based protocol which incorporates gender, social, and governance issues.

As I reflect on the reasons behind the discriminatory access to water for a sizeable segment of people in the HKH – who are therefore left behind and deprived of enjoying better lives and a basic human right – I believe that World Water Day should be a reminder for all stakeholders – governments, the private sector, civil society, and academicians – to unite for this cause. We must share and promote solutions that involve and work for women and marginalized communities and are tailored to local contexts within the broader framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. With this thought, I wish everyone a happy World Water Day 2019!


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