World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about focusing attention on the importance of water. This year’s theme, ‘Nature for Water’, explores nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.
Water is a human right according to the United Nations, which in 2010 declared that every man, woman and child should have access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation. As the most precious life source the earth has to offer, without which humans cannot survive, the recognition of water’s importance to human beings as equal to their right to life and dignity goes without saying.
In Scotland, we take the provision of clean water from our taps and the safe removal of waste water for granted. Sadly, this is not the case in many parts of the world:
- 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services.
- By 2050, the world’s population will have grown by an estimated 2 billion people and global water demand could be up to 30% higher than today.
- Around 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas. By 2050, this could increase to around 3 billion people.
- 1.8 billion people use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human faeces.
- Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the environment without being treated or reused.
This February, the European Commission published the Re-cast of the Drinking Water Directive. We have been waiting four years for this first concrete outcome of the European Citizens Initiative, following the Commission’s unambitious Communication in 2014. The proposed Directive, as the ETUC and others said at the time, is a step forward, but misses the opportunity to recognise the Human Right to Water. Now we have to mobilise allies in the European Parliament, the European Social and Economic Committee and the Committee of the Regions to push the European Union to commit to really implementing the Human Right to Water. Hopefully it will happen before Brexit, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
In Scotland, we have the benefit of a largely public sector water service. Despite Scottish Water’s persistent reference to ‘the company’, they are in fact a public corporation. This public service delivers a quality service more cost effectively than private companies in England, despite the additional costs of managing water in Scotland. The private sector has crept into a few corners of the service through competition measures in the non-domestic market and through ruinously expensive PFI schemes. However, the core service remains in public hands.
There is a case for greater democratic accountability and moving away from the regulation model that seeks to copy the private sector model in England and Wales. We could also do much more with water as an economic asset, something envisaged in the Hydro Nation concept. Sadly, that vision hasn’t been realised in full. I hope that is something Scottish Labour and other political parties will consider in the run up to the next Scottish Parliament election.
The sharks are always circling around Scottish Water and we need to remain vigilant. Scotland’s water is not for sale.