No water, no future

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development held here in South Africa, Nelson Mandela famously said “No Water, No Future”.

He was referring to the fact that this precious resource is undeniably getting scarcer in many regions around the world, and particularly in Africa and here in South Africa. It is up to all citizens and industry to help in this regard, but the tourism industry should be more resourceful when it comes to consumption of water and how much it provides to tourists.

If hotels, accommodation establishments and other tourism related businesses do not reduce their demand for water, especially in those areas that are hard hit by droughts and dry climates, conflict may arise between local farmers and communities that rely on the water supply for their existence. Water, being the essential yet limited resource that it is, should be looked after and shared equally among all peoples.

The problem with water supply is that it costs money, and it is obvious that hotels and other travel related businesses have more money than the poorer local communities, and thus it is naturally the poor that will go without. Another issue is the fact that very often, water supplies such as dams, rivers and aquifers are diverted to meet the requirements of tourists, and in the process drain water courses that are used by the local and rural communities. Large hotels need a huge amount of water, and very often have a massive swimming pool or golf course that increases this demand. Very often, this water is pulled up from the ground via boreholes which eventually drain the water table leaving very little for anyone else.

Travellers are generally irresponsible about water usage when they are away from home. When the European Environment Agency investigated this, they found that it was not uncommon for tourists to use up to four times the water when they were on holiday than when they were at home. If this worries the Europeans, who generally have a good supply of water, then warning bells should definitely be ringing here in South Africa and the southern Africa region, where water is one of the scarcest resources around. The tourism industry should be, if they are not already, addressing issues of water consumption by travellers.

It is now an accepted fact that climate change is happening and will continue at an ever increasing rate. The frightening thing is that the full effect of this may only start to be felt in the next 5-10 years. One of the effects of this will be that the earth’s water supplies will be put out of kilter, and wet regions will face the threat of drought, while dry areas may face devastating floods. Recently, two hundred million people have been displaced by floods in China, 20 million in Indian and millions in Bangladesh. Europe has seen some of the worst flooding in years – with England, Germany, France and Switzerland worst hit. In Sudan, which is basically desert, flash flooding has killed many people. And while floods are hitting some regions, fresh rivers are drying up elsewhere. The point here is that if water shortages are already affecting the South African tourism industry, then it will take a concerted effort by government, the industry and tourists themselves to begin acting responsibly and taking care of water.

Water conservation can make a real difference to local communities, and with clean water can come health, education and a better quality of life for the local people. Tourism businesses including hotels and other accommodation establishments can give back to the community by helping the locals with “water literacy”, while at the same time ensuring that their guests are responsible and frugal with their water usage. Basically what is needed, is to educate everyone involved in tourism about water conservation, including tourists themselves, hotel and establishment owners and staff as well as the local communities.

Here are some tips to help tourists save water:

  • Save water. Don’t abuse it – the less water used, the more there is left in local resources.
  • Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth.
  • Take a shower instead of a bath – at least 50 litres can be saved.
  • Try to turn off the shower while soaping up and washing yourself. Turn the shower back on to rinse the soap off.
  • Use a towel more than once. Follow the guidelines provided by the hotel about changing sheets and linen. Washing towels and linen uses massive amounts of both water and electricity.
  • Tourists and guests should report any leaking and dripping taps. A dripping tap can waste up to a hundred litres a week.
  • When rinsing feet or anything else, don’t do it under a running tap. Rather fill the basin or sink and rinse off in one go.
  • The fact that you have more money than the poorer local communities does not mean you can waste water just because you can afford to pay the bill. Remember that often local communities have to pay even more for their water supply – by walking for miles to fetch it, or to pay proportionately a much higher rate (if you earn less, then basics cost proportionately more).

So whether you work in the tourism industry or are a tourist yourself, remember to take a responsible attitude towards water conservation. Focus on sustainability; because once it is gone it is gone. No water means no future, and without it your favourite tourist destination may just become a fading memory.