Thirsty people, dry agricultural land and powerful corporations will soon have to face each other in a quest for survival over the growing scarcity of water, the blue gold, if the resource is not well managed.
Growing competition for water resources, as a result of rising population and increasing economic activities such as farming, industrialization and urbanization is expected to bring about water stress and lead to conflicts across the world.
Water experts urge government to put in place water demand management strategies that promote an efficient and equitable use of existing water resources.
The strategies, they propose, must address social factors such as poverty, traditional values of water, and the centralized management of water resources, all which discourage consumers to value water as a commodity whose sustenance, health, welfare and economic use must be related to a cost.
Dr. Wapulumika Mulwafu, Environmental Historian at the University of Malawi believes that authorities must raise stakeholder awareness on the economic value of water, pricing, inefficient water use, water scarcity, as well as systems and procedures relating to water allocation and use rights.
He notes that water management has found little attention in key water management institutions, legislation and policies, where little has been done towards water conservation and control of water wastage.
Studies show that there is need to change people’s attitude that regards water as a public good which people must have access free of charge or at subsidized rates, whether they can afford it or not.
Statistics indicate that though at subsidized rates, 35 percent of the urban population cannot afford to pay for water because of poverty while a corresponding 68 percent in the rural area, despite the poverty, are not willing to enter into cost sharing arrangements with water supplying entities.
Maria Rusca, researcher in water and people at the Uppsala University in Sweden, however, observes that adequate access to water, hygiene and sanitation is important in tipping the balance towards reduction of everyday health risks as diarrhoeal and parasitic diseases.
In Malawi, where surface water resources consist of a network of river systems and lakes that cover more than 20 percent of the country’s territorial area, the blue gold plays a great role in the country’s economy.
It is estimated that domestic consumption accounts for 34 percent of the country’s water resources while industry, consisting of manufacturing, construction, mining and utilities, accounts for 17 percent with agriculture and natural resources, the largest users and the largest sector of the economy generating about one-third of Malawi’s gross domestic product, use 49 percent, mainly in form of rainfall.
Agriculture, which is largely rain-fed and covers over two million hectares of land, loses a lot of rainwater through surface run-off as rain harvesting is rarely done, especially by smallholder farmers. Furrow irrigation system, where water is applied to the crop through open channel flow, is the most common type of irrigation system used by smallholder farmers while sprinkler irrigation is applied, mainly on estates and drip irrigation left for the country’s agricultural research centers.