Published on Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tourism Concern gets WET

Campaign group calls for action to protect water rights

Campaign group Tourism Concern has launched a new campaign demanding action to protect the water rights of communities living in tourism destinations in the face of increasing competition from the tourism industry. The Water Equity in Tourism Campaign (WET) will open up a critical debate around whether tourist"s water consumption should continue to have priority over the needs of local communities.

"We feel there is a critical need to address this issue. Tourism is a thirsty, rapidly expanding sector, which is placing unprecedented pressure on water resources in places where it is already scarce due to climate change, lack of infrastructure and weak governance", says campaigns manager, Rachel Noble.  "While the poorest and most vulnerable often go without, next door tourists are free to enjoy swimming pools and golf. This situation of inequity must be addressed. Governments and the tourism industry are bound by international law to protect and respect the water rights of communities."

In many parts of the world, tourism"s demand for water has resulted in:

  • Appropriation of water supplies to the detriment of local domestic and agricultural needs
  • Overexploitation of aquifers and reservoirs, causing depletion of groundwater tables
  • Contamination of freshwater by saltwater intrusion
  • Pollution and contamination of waterways

For example, in Zanzibar tourists typically consume 15 times more water than local residents on a daily basis.  Golf courses in Bali use 3 million litres of water every day, while some villagers have to walk up to 3 kilometres to collect water from a well. In the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, a luxury tourist lodge boasts a swimming pool and has been allowed to drill for water. Meanwhile, the government is refusing to re-open a borehole that was used by the indigenous Bushmen, forcing them to make a 300km round trip or collect water from depressions in the sand.  In Costa Rica, residents of the town of Sardinal held mass demonstrations against plans for an US$8 million pipeline that would draw water from their local aquifer to supply coastal tourist resorts.

Typically, water-saving initiatives undertaken by the tourism industry focus on reducing consumption within hotels and resorts. Tourism Concern is calling for a wider approach that addresses the impacts of tourism"s water use on local communities and ensures fairer distribution, where local peoples" essential water needs take precedence.

"We realise this is a complex issue. Addressing it effectively will require a combination of research, awareness-raising, and seeking solutions that involve all the key players:  governments, local authorities, service providers, the tourism industry and local communities. Our WET campaign will encompass all these elements", says Noble.

Tourism Concern water facts:
  • Just 3 % of the Earth"s water is fresh; some 70% of this is frozen in the polar icecaps (Stockholm International Water Institute - SIWI)
  • Water demand tripled in the last 50 years due to population growth and associated increasing demand from industrial and agricultural sectors (SIWI).
  • Nearly 3 billion people already live in water scarce conditions. This figure could rise to as much as 7 billion by 2025 (UN-Water / SIWI).
  • Tourist arrivals are expected to exceed 1.6 billion by 2020 (UNWTO), contributing to global warming and placing unprecedented pressure on water resources in destination countries.
  • Global warming is causing weather patterns to change, leading to prolonged periods of drought and increased flooding in many parts of the world, both of which contribute to water scarcity. This includes in many developing countries were tourism is being rapidly developed.  
  • Climate change is expected to account for about 20% of the global increase in water scarcity this century (2050 Project)

Valere Tjolle
Valere Tjolle is editor of the Sustainable Tourism Report Suite 2011 - latest news on the suite at www.travelmole.com/stories/1145615.php

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