Young professionals attending the World Water Week in Sweden have said youths are critical to attaining access to safe water for all by 2030.
The delegates said in that regard the youth should be put at the centre of the global agenda for sustainable development.
The annual global conference on water, which has attracted 3 300 delegates under the auspices of the Stockholm International Water Institute (Siwi), started yesterday with sessions focusing on youth participation in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The sixth SDG President Peter Mutharika and other world leaders adopted in September 2015 requires countries, including Malawi, to achieve universal and equitable access to safe drinking water by 2030.
Faces of change
But Canadian Ryan Hreljac, who works with local communities and change agents to increase access to water in sub-Saharan Africa, urged the youth to take the lead and occupy their rightful role in the global push for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable water.
The founder of Ryan’s Well Foundation was a six-year-old Standard One pupil in his hometown, Kemptiville near Ottawa, when his teacher, Mr Prest, narrated a “shocking story” about many African women still walking long distances in search of water and children missing classes and dying from lack of safe water.
He said: “That was in January 1998. When I learned that there were people dying in the world because they didn’t have clean water, I couldn’t believe it! I take nine steps and there, I have it.”
The contrast, which perfectly mirrors widespread inequalities when it comes to access to water, moved the award-winning youthful philanthropist, now 26, to ask his parents to do extra household chores to raise $70 (about K51 450) to construct a protected well at Angolo Primary School in the northern part of Uganda.
Thereafter, the boy soon found himself giving fundraising talks and conducting raffle draws when WaterCan, a non-governmental organisation working in the water sector, estimated that the well would cost at least $2 000 (about K1.4 million).
Yesterday, Ryan told The Nation in an interview in the Stockholm that ever since, he has raised almost $10 million (about K7.3 billion) in a campaign matched by United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), World Health Organisation (WHO), Canadian International Agency (Cida) and Canadian Physician for Aid and Relief (Cpar) other international agencies.
He reckoned the money has helped the foundation accomplish 1 277 water and sanitation projects in about 30 countries, including Malawi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria.
Teach them young
Typical of the story of the soft-spoken young Canadian, Stockholm vice-mayor Katarina Luhr believes there is no better starting point for the push to achieve SDG6 than the classroom.
The Siwi World Water Week host city, once heavily polluted by industrial waste, promotes youth participation in its ambitious plan to make all lakes and rivers clean in line with European Union standards.
Luhr explained: “Stockholm has a new policy of putting the youth at the centre of decision- making and creating a sustainable future since they live in the city. We engage children from preschool to university.”
At the height of this year’s cholera outbreak in Malawi, Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi echoed the need for youth awareness and involvement in closing water and sanitation gaps.
Government estimates that diseases caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water account for over half of the patients treated in the country’s hospitals, but Muluzi said most of them would be prevented if safe water and sanitation practices were taught in school.
The youth are sometimes excluded from taking part in the agenda for universal access to water and sanitation due to lack of knowledge and skills.
“There is low participation of the youth and they are usually underrepresented in decision-making. Governments rarely involve them youth in policy-making and NGOs have not created adequate room for youth interaction. So, the transition would not be smooth as long as the senior citizens keep dominating decision-making meetings and positions,” said Bangladesh Youth Water Forum founder Syed Ahmed Nafsir Abrar.
His organisation rallies the youth in secondary school and universities to be at the table where issues development issues are discussed.
The driving force
Siwi international policy manager Maggie White asked the youth to join the global conversation as over 50 percent of SDGs refer to them “not as beneficiaries or victims of global trends, but enablers and the drivers of the change”.