Teaching People to Use Water Wisely. (Putting the Puzzle Together)

By Abdul Aziz, Prince Talal Bin | UN Chronicle, June-August 2003 | Go to article overview

Teaching People to Use Water Wisely. (Putting the Puzzle Together)


Abdul Aziz, Prince Talal Bin, UN Chronicle


As the Special Envoy for Water of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO), it is my pleasure to contribute towards increasing awareness of water, our most precious resource. In some parts of the world, demand far exceeds supply: in Kuwait, only 10 cubic metres of water are available per person per year; and my own country, Saudi Arabia, fares scarcely better, with a mere 118 cubic metres per person per year. Water is essential to life--for drinking, basic needs, energy, industry and food; it is scarce and precious, and it is therefore essential to learn how to use it well. It sustains each and every one of us, as well as the ecosystems on which we all depend. None of these exists in isolation, and we are only now coming to understand the many ways in which water cuts across human and environmental issues, affecting each in turn and all in concert.

As important as the efforts made between institutional and governmental walls are, the International Year of Freshwater 2003 is a platform of opportunity to extend beyond those walls, to reach out and connect to a larger and more diverse audience. We all have a role to play in ensuring the resource's health--in our businesses, schools, companies and homes. We need to teach each other the art of governing water wisely. One of the stepping stones to this is encouraging the full participation of all groups, including women, youth and indigenous peoples.

In Australia, an extraordinarily dry island-continent, Aboriginal people have a profound understanding of the land, including knowledge of where water runs, when the rains are coming, and where to find waterholes in the harshest drought. Through paintings depicting waterholes and ways of accessing the life-giving substance, the Aborigines display their knowledge. Although the dissemination of information varies from school-taught methods, indigenous knowledge and traditions can go a long way towards teaching communities about wise water governance.

Along the same vein, by applying the traditional land management system, a local Tanzanian soil conservation project, HASHI, has succeeded in restoring land health after severe degradation. Traditional forms of enclosures have allowed farmers to provide fodder longer during dry seasons, and there is better food production. Thesystem has proven equally advantageous to the environment, with native tree and animal species returning.

The International Year is an opportunity for everyone, from national leaders to schoolchildren, to be involved and enjoy learning about and protecting water. …

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