Water, the Foundation of Sustainable Development

In the southern hemisphere, vacation season approaches, and there’s a palpable need to disconnect and allow ourselves a space without worries or pressing matters. Perhaps we aren’t even sure if we’ll have the chance to travel during these vacations. Nevertheless, we invite you to be part of this reflection, the topic of this week: “water management and tourism.”

Column by: Paula González*

I conducted an exercise with my family and asked: “If we close our eyes and think of a vacation destination, what image appears?” The answers were diverse: the first person said “pool,” the second “sea, water,” the third “river, shade, lakes,” the fourth “sea,” and the fifth “a lake and a volcano.”

Tourist destinations are framed within certain ecosystems where water is the most characteristic feature (wetlands, beaches, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, islands, glaciers, or snow, among others) or seek to leverage their numerous benefits, such as spas, thermal centers, etc.

The urgency of safeguarding this resource is light-years away from merely considering it essential for our rest.

Water is the foremost among sustainable development issues because it is fundamental for the very survival of humans, is the driver of socioeconomic development, energy, and food production. It is the primary source of healthy ecosystems. Hence, water is said to be the crucial link between society and the environment. The global panorama shows us that for human development, water and sanitation systems cannot be separated, and it becomes a matter of right.

Among the challenges, the United Nations has an agenda to work on reducing this issue, the figures of which are staggering:

  • 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services (WHO/UNICEF 2017).
  • 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services (WHO/UNICEF 2017).
  • 340,000 children under five years old die each year from diarrheal diseases (WHO/UNICEF 2017).
  • Water scarcity already affects four out of ten people (WHO).
  • 90% of natural disasters are water-related (UNISDR).
  • 80% of wastewater returns to the ecosystem without treatment or reuse (UNESCO, 2017).
  • Around two-thirds of the world’s transboundary rivers have no cooperative management framework (SIWI).
  • Agriculture represents 70% of global water extraction (FAO).
  • Approximately 75% of all industrial water extractions are used for energy production (UNESCO, 2014).

Certainly, this might not be the first time we’ve read this, nor the first time we’ve felt the need to commit ourselves to work for proper water management.

The proposal to let ourselves be questioned about the state of the natural resources around us allows us to raise awareness, and surely our behavior seeks to safeguard this resource.

Experts in water matters to develop policies and strategies assert that the tourism sector contributes to protecting water resources, which specifically benefits the population. Conversely, we find other communities where tourism opens doors to development but faces water scarcity.

This happened with Hector Lamas of the Omaguaca Community in Hornaditas, Jujuy province, who expressed his deep concern about having a bathroom in the house only after 6 years. The bathroom discharge or the desire of travelers to bathe more than once a day and their prolonged stay didn’t let him sleep. He was acutely aware that he’d have water for his community for no more than 10 years. Personally, when I listened to him, I felt my life was turned upside down. It wasn’t a simple task, but from that extended conversation, without time constraints, sharing life, projects were born that enabled the community to access other water sources, and, above all, to generate a protocol on the behavior of travelers in their community, taking more concrete steps in sanitation and comprehensive use for irrigation.

In this reality, we want to lean on. Once again, we confirm that tourism is a significant contribution to sustainable development.

Our attitude towards nature and the mismanagement of its resources today leaves serious consequences. Hence, greater determination is necessary. Although responsibility from politicians and entrepreneurs is crucial, we invite you to join by dedicating time to prepare. How?

  • Understanding the situation of the destination to be visited
  • Adopting a different lifestyle, where sobriety and self-discipline are characteristics
  • Reflecting on your responsibilities and the impact of your trip, knowing that not everything is permissible
  • Educating and promoting small actions that prevent wasting or polluting water, which also help us value its importance even more
  • Guarding water consumption, from personal hygiene time to toilet flushing.

Caring for water is a commitment for all of us, and we must assume it in every action we undertake. As conscientious travelers, we’ll leave our mark in each destination to make this essential resource the key to sustainable development.

Advisor in sustainable and responsible tourism-