The youth and the integrated water resources management

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The youth are an investment for the future and bringing the youth into the centre stage is the only solution. Train them while they are young to reap good rewards later. It is encouraging that the three big political parties in the South African politics – Ruling African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Front (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), all have young Members of Parliament (MPs) among their members. They are the leaders of tomorrow

But, we all know that water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population.  Most of these people are women and the youth. And, according to the World Bank, water-related disasters account for 70% of all death associated with natural disasters. The most important thing for all countries to embark on is to strengthen their integrated water resources management.

And, that is where the role of society, governments and experts alike play an important role in educating and involving the youth about this important phenomenon with the aim of preserving and managing our water resources. Engaging Youth for Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) forms an important part of the communications strategy. By creating awareness about the fragility of our water resources and introducing the concept of IWRM at an early age, you are investing in continuity. Continuity is very important to any project as it ensures its sustainability.

Hence getting the Youth involved and interested in IWRM is a key strategy. This toolkit contains information on why it is important to engage youth in IWRM and how this can be done, it also contains resources that have been developed to guide the user on how IWRM can be incorporated into schools.

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”1 This new development agenda propagates an all-of-society engagement and partnership as a main driver for transformation. It is a collective action plan that unites State and non-State actors, whereby adequate opportunity and space is given to all major groups in society.

While youth is considered as a vulnerable group that warrants specific attention, young people are also viewed as important actors who should be educated and enabled to reach their full potential (para. 25; SDG 4, targets 4.4 and 4.6). Specific attention is given to the promotion of youth employment for inclusive and sustainable economic growth (para. 27; SDG 8, targets 8.6 and 8b) and to developing the capacity of youth to effectively contribute to climate change-related planning and management (SDG 13, target 13.b).

Young people have the potential to be effective agents of change. But unless the need is acknowledged to provide an enabling environment for youth to thrive in, this remains an empty catchphrase. The transition of youth from a target group to full partner lacks traction in many fields of the development domain. Engaging youth in the water sector is particularly challenging due to its complex nature.

In the international water community, bottom-up youth engagement comes through a variety of civil society networks. While many youth initiatives may exist around the world, structured and meaningful involvement of youth is generally hampered due to various reasons that range from the lack of widespread support to the absence of proper platforms that sustain youth participation.

In the last few years, youth have been targeted by many leading international organizations in the water sector. In fact, youth engagement has become a fashionable trend. Most organizations have their marketed youth strategies promoting an image of youth inclusion and engagement. However, these good intentions rarely reflect the reality on the ground. In practice, youth engagement sometimes simply means inviting youth representatives to participate in events.

Furthermore, many initiatives led by water institutions aimed at engaging youth take place in an ad hoc manner and lack consistency. As South Africa celebrates the Youth Month, albeit the Youth Day on June 16 of each year – the big question is: Is our youth taking up the challenge of involving themselves with water-saving and preservation activities?

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has implemented such water-awareness creation programmes such as the Baswa Le Meetse – Youth in Water – and the Youth Summit among others.

Baswa Le Meetse (Youth in Water) Award is a Ministerial Project under the curatorship of Director: Transformation, Mr Curtis Mavula Mabena – which was launched in 2003. It is one of the action projects of 2020 Vision for Water Education Programme (2020VFWEP). The awards aim to recognise the role of youth in education and awareness campaigns on integrated water management, sanitation, impact of invasive alien plants and health and hygiene promotion issues. Baswa Le Meetse project targets grade six (6) learners, who convey sound messages on water use efficiency, water conservation, and water resources protection, impact of invasive alien plants and health and hygiene. They use art as a medium to communicate messages.

This is done through five different art forms such as drama, music, poetry, praise poetry and posters. Learners align their messages with the theme “Washing of hands, use and care of sanitation facilities for a healthy life.”

We are all aware that today, most countries are placing unprecedented pressure on water resources. The global population is growing fast, and estimates show that with current practices, the world will face a 40% shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030. Furthermore, chronic water scarcity, hydrological uncertainty, and extreme weather events (floods and droughts) are perceived as some of the biggest threats to global prosperity and stability. Acknowledgment of the role that water scarcity and drought are playing in aggravating fragility and conflict is increasing.

Baswa le Meetse competitions require a holistic and integrated approach. The key objective of the guideline document is to assist educators as they prepare learners for the district auditions, provincial and national competitions and national awards (to be held during the Youth Summit). The guideline serves as a frame of reference which guides the adjudication panels to ensure a fair selection of the winners and the implementing team to co-ordinate the project effectively.

Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 60% increase in agricultural production, (which consumes 70% of the resource today), and a 15% increase in water withdrawals. Besides this increasing demand, the resource is already scarce in many parts of the world. Estimates indicate that 40% of the world population lives in water scarce areas, and approximately ¼ of world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is exposed to this challenge. By 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity. Water security is a major – and often growing –challenge for many countries today.

The fragmentation of this resource also constrains water security. There are 276 trans-boundary basins, shared by 148 countries, which account for 60% of the global freshwater flow. Similarly, 300 aquifers systems are trans-boundary in nature, meaning 2 billion people worldwide are dependent on groundwater.

The challenges of fragmentation are often replicated at the national scale, meaning cooperation in the form of involving the youth is needed to achieve optimal water resources management and development solutions for all riparian’s. To deal with these complex and interlinked water challenges, countries will need to improve the way they manage their water resources and associated services.

To strengthen water security against this backdrop of increasing demand, water scarcity, growing uncertainty, greater extremes, and fragmentation challenges, countries will need to invest in the youth to maximise the institutional strengthening, information management, and (natural and man-made) infrastructure development. Institutional tools such as legal and regulatory frameworks, water pricing, and incentives are needed to better allocate, regulate, and conserve water resources. Information systems are needed for resource monitoring, decision making under uncertainty, systems analyses, and hydro-meteorological forecast and warning.

Also, countries need to investments in innovative technologies for enhancing productivity, conserving and protecting resources, recycling storm water and wastewater, and developing non-conventional water sources should be explored in addition to seeking opportunities for enhanced water storage, including aquifer recharge and recovery. Ensuring the rapid dissemination and appropriate adaptation or application of these advances will be a key to strengthening global water security.


Ike Motsapi is a  Principal Communications Officer for the Department of Water and Sanitation.