by Eva Rathgeber
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Table of Contents
Water is a basic human need and a basic human right. In situations of scarcity, decisions about access to water and use of water involve actors at the intergovernmental, governmental, regional, community and household levels and often become highly politicized. The needs and perspectives of large and small scale farmers, of small and medium sized enterprises, of households, of fisherfolk and of others who earn their livelihood from water can differ significantly. At the same time, level of commitment of the different actors to conservation practices and to protection of water resources from contamination may also vary and the question of whose interests prevail and receive top priority can create considerable tension. The most vulnerable members of societies - the landless and the poor - often have no voice in decision-making about water and their needs may be given little priority. This paper reviews current practices in water utilization and management in developing countries, focusing specifically on the gendered nature of water decision-making.
Freshwater accounts for only 2.5 percent of the surface of the earth and more than half of all available freshwater is already being used (UNFPA 2002). Over the past decade, experts have given frequent warnings that the global supply of water is rapidly being depleted and that world consumption patterns must be reduced through more efficient and less wasteful water usage. The major disparities in water use among industrialized and developing countries have been calculated in dramatic terms (Box 2), underscoring the inequality of access to water resources, worldwide.
Box 1: Access to Water
In the year 2000, there were still 16 countries in the world where less than 50 percent of the population had access to improved water sources, i.e. piped water, a public tap, a borehole with a pump, a protected well, a protected spring or rainwater. In numeric terms, approximately 1.2 billion people lack access to clean water (UNDP, Human Development Index, 2002).
Despite these major disparities in water use, the well-known negative effects of poor water and sanitation facilities on health, and the lack of access of the poor to basic social services in many developing countries, the response from international donors has been relatively low-key. Recent estimates suggest that US$ 206-216 billion would be required annually to provide basic social services (primary education, basic health care and food, reproductive health, clean drinking water and sanitation) to developing countries (Martens 2001). At the end of the 1990s, governments, including those of developing countries, were spending about $136 billion per year on social services, leaving a shortfall of $70 - $80 billion. Official development assistance stood at $53.1 billion in 2000, but it is estimated that only about 11 percent of bilateral and multilateral funds were directed towards the provision of basic social services (Martens 2001). This suggests that although there has been substantial discussion about poverty alleviation since the mid-1990s when the World Bank began to shift its focus away from primarily macroeconomic approaches, towards the inclusion of good governance and strategies to assist the poor, the actual commitment in financial terms has been considerably less.
Box 2: Global Inequities in Water Use
In Africa, household water use averages 47 liters per person. In Asia, the average is 95 liters. In the United Kingdom, the average is 334 liters per person per day and in the United States the average is 578 liters per person per day. (UNFPA 2000)
This paper provides an overview of current research and approaches to women and water resource management. It begins with an examination of the activities of some UN and other organizations and then focuses on womens productive labour in both irrigated and rainfed agriculture and in other income-generating activities. A brief overview of the uses of domestic water is also provided. Attention is given to the gendered nature of watershed development and of the effects of water-related disasters. The paper ends with some suggestions for further action points for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other organizations.
I. The UN and other organizations
The Millennium Development Goals
International Fora for Natural Resources: Water
II. Integration of Gender Concerns into Water Programmes
Water Policy and Strategy: the Gender Issues
Water Projects and Water Management: Power and Powerlessness
The Gendered Nature of Water Use
Beyond the Agricultural Sector
Disaster Preparedness and Response
III. Conclusions and Areas for Action