Somewhere in a mountain village in the Himalayas, a woman folds a taro leaf into a cone, fills it with soil, and sows a seed. She waters her little cone with waste water from the kitchen, creating an enabling environment for the seed to germinate in, says a woman researcher of an international institute.
She hopes in time the seed will add a bit of greenery to her kitchen. For her, water flows down in the river where it is not easy to access, and the nearby springs are all drying up as the climate changes, Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) researcher Pranita Bhushan Udas said ahead of World Water Day on March 22.
She has no option but to maximise the use of available water. She has to reuse and recycle. The taro leaf prevents seepage, holds water for more days, and turns into manure over time. By the simple act of planting a seed the woman is utilising holistic knowledge and combining various resources to maximise benefit.
This is just one instance showing how resourceful mountain women have been in actively engaging in managing water resources, said Udas, who is gender, water and adaptation specialist in the livelihoods theme with ICIMOD.
According to her, traditional knowledge of the skills necessary for surviving in harsh mountain terrains, passed on from one generation to another, gives mountain people a unique, holistic understanding of how a single resource can be put to multiple uses.
"The principle of reuse and recycle is at the core of resource management for women and men living in challenging environments today, as it was in the past. It is unfortunate that such age-old practices are forgotten as communities’ rush to modernisation and the availability of water starts to get determined by the ability to pay for water," she said.
"Whether it is a village along the Ganges, Kosi or the Indus rivers, it is women who are solely responsible for managing water resources for the family. The men are absent, having ventured off their farms in search of employment. For the women left behind, problems arising from water scarcity and water-induced disaster, and the associated conflicts and insecurities make them more vulnerable."
Udas said the situation in cities is no different for women among the urban poor.
She said with increase in migration in cities and competition for aesthetic and industrial water use, women among the urban poor struggle to manage water and compromise their water need for the sake of their family members.
By 2015, 663 million people in the world still lacked safe and improved drinking water sources, and 2.4 billion lacked improved sanitation, for which women and girls bore the brunt.
The researcher said increasing global threat to water scarcity in the face of both climatic and socio-economic changes demands urgent action for the reuse and recycling of available water resources, at both individual and institutional levels.
"Changing our habits to make sure we reuse and recycle water will not only help us meet our water need, but also help reduce gender water poverty by reducing water conflicts and water grabbing, and promoting sensitivity to water sharing," she added.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)