Why are Women and girls most affected by water scarcity?
The task of providing water for their households has a significant impact on their bodies. According to a report by the NGO "Ayuda en Acción", which promotes access to water in areas with scarcity, women have to travel many miles a day with an average weight of 20 kilograms on their backs.
Ayda María Martínez Ipuz
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In addition to physical strain, there are also risks of gender-based violence. The report warns that in the long journeys that millions of women make worldwide to access water, they expose themselves to harassment and sexual assault. Moreover, when mothers cannot do it, their daughters have to undertake this task, generating physical and psychological burdens that many young women have to face from a position of weakness and vulnerability.
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The truth is that the worst consequences of water scarcity, such as famines, wars, diseases and infections caused by consuming poor-quality water, are suffered mainly by adult women and girls.
"It is essential to urgently address the lack of access to safe water sources: we can no longer turn a blind eye to gender-based violence anywhere in the world," the "Ayuda en Acción" report argues.
The United Nations also warns that issues surrounding the water cycle fuel global conflicts in health, hunger, gender equality, education, industry, natural disasters, and lack of peace. Therefore, on World Water Day, this year's call from the multilateral organization is "Be the Change," animed at guiding us on how to use, consume, and manage water sustainably.
How to be a responsible water user
In addition to measures to reduce water consumption that can be adopted at home, there are some daily consumption habits that, when transformed, can contribute to saving water.
"We need to think about our meals, for example. Every time we consume animal products, we exponentially increase our water footprint," explains Karen Andrea Reyes, spokesperson for the international NGO Sinergia Animal in Colombia.
Cheese, farmed fish, prawns, and beef are some of the foods that consume the most water in their production. For example, producing a liter of cow's milk consumes around 628 liters of water.
"When people buy a piece of cheese at the supermarket, they probably don't think about the waste of such a precious resource as water, but they should," suggests the NGO.
The industry is also responsible for contaminating bodies of water with waste from agricultural lands and pesticide residues that can affect marine life and pose a threat to human health. The use of antibiotics in livestock is also related to groundwater contamination with animal waste. "There is a widespread prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria documented worldwide," according to a UNESCO report.
"The amount of plastic pollution caused by the fishing industry also surprises people. To put into perspective, while textile washing accounts for 3.2% of all plastic lost in the environment, fishing nets and gear pollute twice as much, adding up to 7.2%," Reyes said.
Another sector with a high water footprint is the fashion industry. According to a UNEP report, the clothing industry consumes around 215 trillion liters of freshwater per year, with 21% used for raw material production (especially cotton) and 24% for bleaching, dyeing, and finishing.
"Water is a finite resource. If we want to save it, we have to start making changes both at an industrial level and in our homes. Eating a plant-based diet is one of the most accessible options," proposes Reyes.