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Water for tourism over right to water ?


The 2012 progress report on the Millennium Development Goal points out that, while the MDG target on water has been largely met, 783 million people still remain without access to an improved source of drinking water. The demand rising rapidly due to a growing global population with expectations of higher living standards and resource-intensive farming, that 1% is under threat. Research has reminded us that we need a 50 percent reduction in water consumption to alleviate a water crisis world-wide. That reduction means cutting down on uses of fresh water to a certain extent, it also means wisely re-using water.

Water is unfortunately still thought today as an abundant, renewable resource to be captured and used without regard to environmental consequences. That notion – especially prevalent in developed countries – needs to be replaced with the understanding that water isn’t renewable and it needs to be allocated carefully and wisely. Water challenges in South Africa specifically relate to issues such as safe food provision, sufficient sources of clean potable water, health and a sustainable environment. Predictions say that South Africa will run out of water by 2020, and it needs to be ensured that the necessary technology is in place to recycle and re-use our water sources, by keeping our drinking water clean and by sustainably harvesting as much water as possible. This requires technology, innovation and most importantly human capacity – a blue revolution is needed which drives the development of these requirements and further research to ensure clean, affordable and quality water provision and sanitation.

The ever growing tourism sector and hotel companies have both a morally and also strong commercial imperative for addressing water use. Cost is a clear factor: water accounts for 10% of utility bills in many hotels. Most hotels pay for the water they consume twice – first by purchasing fresh water and then by disposing of it as waste water! According to leading Environmental Agencies, depending on their water efficiency, hotels can reduce the amount of water consumed per guest per night by up to 50% compared with establishments with poor performance in water consumption. 10% only are used by guests only – the majority is used for cleaning, laundering, landscaping, cooking and leakage.

The moral reasons are equally compelling: water is a scare resource in many resorts not only on the African continent but around the world so hotels have a responsibility not to use more than necessary; in rural or remote areas it ensures that local residents are not deprived of their essential supply; and by reducing the amount of waste-water that needs to be treated, this lessens the risk of water pollution.

The inequitable and unsustainable depletion of water resources in tourism destinations is a shared problem that requires a shared solution. Stakeholders in government, the tourism sector, the donor community and civil society all have important roles to play. Hotels and tour operators, claim to be addressing their impact on water, and a range of water-related guidelines have been devised under various initiatives mainly driven by tour operators ensuring their hospitality suppliers’ compliance for Sustainable Tourism Development.  However, such initiatives generally take a narrow approach, framing water as a purely environmental issue and focusing on water conservation measures within hotels. Where they exist, industry water initiatives are typically limited to reducing water consumption, and ignore wider business impacts on the lives and livelihoods of local communities.

I have recently come across a Tourism concern report ‘Water equity in tourism’, including various case studies, which argues that Water for tourism and leisure is taking precedence over the right to water and sanitation in destinations all over the world.

The report argues that Tourism businesses should move beyond technical approaches and implement their business responsibility to respect the right to water and sanitation in their activities and supply chains – the hospitality industry therefore has a duty in a tourism driven country such as South Africa to play their responsible part in a blue revolution; to not only lead the way in pro-actively decreasing water consumption and improving the water situation world-wide but to address the wider impact on the lives and livelihoods of local communities.

There are numerous examples where hotels, guesthouses or safari lodges have installed water tanks, wells or boreholes to facilitate community access to water. All these initiatives are the true base for a very much needed blue revolution.

Have a closer look at the Water Equity Tourism Report !