Time is now to revolutionize water usage
Op-ed dedicated to World Water Week 2023
Mongolians highly value water, referring to it as "chandmani erdene" or precious. However, the global danger to this vital resource can no longer be ignored. A worldwide water crisis looms, urging nations, communities, and businesses to reconsider how we manage, appreciate, and utilize water.
This concern takes center stage during the ongoing World Water Week, an annual event and prominent global conference addressing water-related issues. Hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), this conference serves as a significant platform for networking and knowledge exchange within the water sector. World Water Week 2023 spotlights innovation in the face of unprecedented challenges, encapsulated by the theme "Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World," encouraging a fresh perspective on water management.
Mongolia is also facing these challenges. In households, there's a problem with many people not having safe drinking water (only 30%) and proper sanitation facilities (only 56%). This issue is made worse by differences in where people live, how much money they have, and even gender. Also, not much water is being reused.
One big issue in Mongolia is the quality of drinking water. UNICEF supported the Water Service Regulatory Commission to check the water quality in Mongolia. They found that in many provinces, the levels of Radon, Uranium, and Lead in the drinking water are higher than what's considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) standards.
When they looked at 3,582 groundwater wells all across the country, they found that 38% of them (which is 1,367 wells) don't meet the national standard for clean drinking water (MNS 0900:2018). Some of the wells (4% or 151 wells) are so bad that the water can't even be used for drinking. Others (34% or 1,215 wells) need special filters and disinfection to be safe to drink.
Lead, arsenic, chromium, and copper are common in the drinking water in Mongolia. If people are exposed to too many of these chemicals, it can cause issues like changes in skin color or more serious problems like damage to the nervous system or organs. It can even affect how we develop, cause diseases like cancer, and lead to other health troubles. Children are especially at risk because they start being exposed to these chemicals when they are young, and the effects can be devastating as they grow up.
The primary reasons for insufficient access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) stem from inadequate infrastructure. These challenges are further exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, dwindling freshwater sources, expanding desertification, pollution, geographical isolation, and insufficient prioritization in policies and budgets.
The undeniable influence of climate change on water accessibility and safety is evident. Recent extreme weather conditions globally, such as intense heatwaves in Europe, record-breaking rainfall in Asia, unusual heatwaves in South America, and devastating wildfires in North America, underscore the urgent need for action.
In Mongolia, recent destructive rainfalls and floods have resulted in loss of life and hardship for many families. This serves as a stark reminder that the country and its communities must prepare for more frequent and unpredictable weather events, as experts predict.
To mitigate these impacts, it's crucial to bolster water systems and enhance the resilience of communities. Resilience entails empowering communities, organizations, and nations to adapt to and recover from challenges without compromising long-term progress.
This can be achieved by:
• Enhancing cooperation among humanitarian and development sectors to connect life-saving actions with sustainable water and sanitation systems.
• Integrating WASH considerations into climate policies, plans, and budgets at national and local levels.
• Strengthening the resilience of WASH systems through actions like using renewable energy, improving water and energy efficiency, reducing emissions, and generating energy from waste.
UNICEF has already begun strengthening the resilience of rural communities by adopting comprehensive approaches to address climate risks through disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures. As part of this effort, UNICEF has successfully established Water Safety Councils in western provinces, ensuring water safety plans are in place.
Moreover, UNICEF has transformed water wells into smart water kiosks, providing round-the-clock water access, and has also set up teams to maintain hygiene around these kiosks.
In schools, kindergartens and dormitories, UNICEF has supported the creation of climate-resilient, energy-efficient water and sanitation facilities, capable of withstanding extreme weather and providing clean water and sanitation for children.
Still, more work remains. The world must embark on a mission to revolutionize water management. By doing so, we can confront the water crisis and climate change, while simultaneously reducing inequality and poverty. With the present-day advances in science, technology, and collaboration, we have the tools to solve previously insurmountable problems.
However, this requires a broader form of innovation, one that integrates behavioral change, governance improvements, and systems thinking. World Water Week 2023 marks the beginning of this transformative journey. UNICEF is actively seeking partnerships for solutions, urging businesses and governments to join in making meaningful, transformative commitments. Only through united, collective action can we ensure a more water-secure world and attain Water Security for All by 2030.