Every year across the world in the month of March, the World Water Day (WWD) is observed with an aim to focus attention on the importance of fresh water and advocating sustainable management of water resources. On March 22 this year, the global community will observe WWD on a theme captioned ‘water and jobs’. Can enough quantity and quality of water change workers’ lives and livelihood, and even transform societies and economies? 

What kind of linkages exist between water and jobs? Globally, more than 600 million people do not use drinking water from improved sources, and about 2.4 billion people lack basic sanitation. In India, due to lack of access of water and improved sanitation, 73 million work days are lost each year. In non-notified slum areas, households are generally deprived of improved water sources, and more than 50 per cent of such households are without improved access of sanitation (against 17 per cent in notified slums). 

This has resulted in India falling into the category of the highest open defecators in the world. The adverse health implication arising out of this situation has affected our labour productivity and has had a consequent impact on higher economic growth and job creation. 

A healthy work force is required for any high-growth economy, which is sustainable in an environment where there is access to clean water infrastructure and improved sanitation for every person. The human right to water and sanitation, as adopted by the UN General Assembly (2010), entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use. 

This along with improved sanitation catalyses a country&’s high economic growth. Over the world, more than half of the workers (about 1.5 billion) are engaged in jobs related to water and those that ensure its safe delivery. In India, a huge work force exists in the agricultural sector, followed by the industrial sector. Over 80 per cent of the water supply is used for irrigation in agricultural sector and about 12 per cent in industry. 

The irrigation sector is highly inefficient, and uses suboptimal quantity of water for production of crops. For example, in India&’s agriculture sector, the quantity of water used is 3.48 billion cubic meter (bcm) per year per million hectare (mha), while in Myanmar, though also a developing country, it is 1.90 bcm per year per mha. 

The use of micro irrigation through drip and sprinkler systems has positive impact on water use efficiency, to the extent of 40-50 per cent. Increase in agricultural productivity through efficient water use positively impacts on economic growth and eventual employment generation. In India&’s industrial sector, too, water use is inefficient. 

Estimates show that the water saving potential in power sector could be as high as 25 per cent of the daily fresh intake of the power plants. In fact, the ratio of water consumption and economic value creation in India&’s industry sector is about US $ 7.5 per cubic meter of water while the same in UK is about US $ 444 per cubic meter of water. 

With increase of water use productivity in the industrial sector, the economic value creation could be increased substantially with benign impact on economic growth and job creation. ‘Water and jobs’ have a gender dimension as well. If there is lack of access to safe water in the neighbourhood, women are tasked for arranging its availability from distances for all members of a family. 

Thus, women are the worst sufferers due to lack of basic human rights, and they cannot remain economically productive given the scenario. Similar is the case of different sections of the vulnerable sectors in society who lack this minimum basic right. 

The 2016 World Water Day is a reminder to Indian policy makers, water sector experts/practitioners, and the public at large that water must be treated as an extremely vital link to resources across many sub-sectors, whose impact stretches across economies, human rights, gender, and vulnerable populations. Hence recognising these truths and formulating strategies to address them are of immediate importance for high economic growth and consequent job creation.