19 May Water scarcity and COVID-19, another hard knock for the vulnerable
Climate change is a global crisis which invariably brings with it a multitude of socio-economic and environmental concerns. Water scarcity and drought are high on the list, especially in developing countries in Sub Saharan Africa due to their low coping and economic assistance capacities.
The issue of water scarcity goes further than communities being unable to fulfil their daily water sanitation and hygiene needs. The lack of water for industries to function effectively can lead to a loss of jobs and reduced GDP. Water scarcity can also lead to shortages in water for drinking and crop irrigation. This is more so the case in rural and undeveloped parts of countries which lie within Sub Saharan Africa.
These shortages bring a plethora of social, gender and vulnerable group issues which are all intertwined within rural and undeveloped communities .
In arid and water scarce regions, farming communities may not have enough water for crops and for livestock to drink. This means there is not enough food for families to harvest and eat. In addition, income generated from the sale of pellets and furs from this livestock may also be lost.
The impacts on these communities can be far reaching and profound. Studies have connected the resulting income shocks to difficult social choices within these vulnerable groups. According to World Vision and the World Bank, certain families may be persuaded to remove their children from formal education, with as many as 1 in 9 girls being married before the age of 15 to accelerate the receipt of income from lobola/dowry, and young boys exiting schooling to assist with subsistence farming for the household.
Often this can perpetuate the cycle of poverty and expose these households to further vulnerabilities. Young child brides may be expected to bear children from very young ages which results in a host of development problems for their bodies including malnutrition (exacerbated by the lack of food in the arid environment). In some instances, sexual relationships with underage child brides and their partners may be non-consensual, possibly leading to abuse and rape from their spouses. Power dynamics may not allow the girls to negotiate for safe sex, leaving them vulnerable to the contraction of HIV and AIDS. Long walks to fetch water far from their communities also make them vulnerable to sexual abuse along the way.
According to World Vision, as water levels drop, early childhood marriages rise, so does the rate of school drop out and malnutrition.
While COVID-19 is a relatively new pandemic, and there has yet to be considerable scientific evidence to back this, over time, it is our expectation that it will have a disproportionate impact on those from lower economic income levels who may have limited options for adhering to strict social distancing and precautionary hygiene practices. In rural communities, vulnerable groups like young children and females who are required to travel great walking distances in order to fetch water for their families or herd cattle to graze at greener pastures are also expected to be at risk (to the extent that this is not mitigated by lower incident rates in rural areas).
The lack of adequate water proves to make the lives of the economically less fortunate and vulnerable harsh in the face of any epidemic. People, companies and organisations with expertise in water should partner with and actively help communities tackle these issues.