End Water Injustice

water-injusticeAn update from our Goan partner Eco Footprints on their struggle against water injustice

Anabel da Gama, Director of our Goan partner Eco Footprints, provides an update on their efforts to tackle the negative impact of tourism on this southern Indian state’s water resources as part of our WET Campaign.

“End water injustice” – thisis increasingly the demand being made by communities in Goa to their government. Not long ago, Goa was known for its perennial water bodies, blue coastal waters, and green landscapes. However, this is now a distant memory for many local residents, who feel alienated from their land and livelihoods. “There was no thought about water access and quality in the earlier days. We were so blessed with community wells and streams that we didn’t struggle to access clean and safe water as we do now,” states a resident from the coastal village of Cavelossim.

Jointly launched by Tourism Concern and Eco Footprints Goa in May, ‘Zero Tolerance for Water Injustice in Goa’ calls for shrewd stewardship of natural, constructed and socio-cultural resources along the coastal tourism belt. Communities are being mobilised to address the growing water inequities through participatory, local-level forums. Activities include mapping of water resources, awareness-raising of water rights and relevant legislation, and building community capacity to challenge government and demand that their rights are protected over private sector tourism interests. Representations to various Government departments have been made calling for a review of current mass tourism policies. Disappointingly however, these have failed to elicit any response, reconfirming the government’s indifference to such concerns.

If you haven’t signed Tourism Concern’s petition to the Government of Goa, please do so now. We in Goa urgently need this international pressure on our government to persuade it to listen to the people, not only big business.

Eco-footprints also collaborated with the Department for Governance (an NGO promoting local decision-making) to organise a Water Symposium. This brought together representatives from local communities, NGOs, and the Department of Agriculture – the only government department to so far engage. A key recommended action was the need to train community trainers, who can reach out to other affected villages and mobilise them around joint actions. There is growing consensus that water, as a common good rather than a private commodity, should be managed and administrated by Local Self Governing Authorities. It is believed that the decentralisation of water resource management will help to address the current over-exploitation and appropriation of water resources of luxury hotels to the detriment of local communities.

Opportunities for establishing a dialogue between the local communities (as the rights holders) with tourism and government stakeholders are also being explored. Dialogue is critical to resolving this issue, and this requires the meaningful engagement of all parties. Overseas tour operators taking tourists to Goa, including those based in the UK, also have a responsibility to ensure rights are not being committed by the actions of their supply chain partners. Therefore their support in such dialogue processes will be vital.

Goa’s tourism water woes
The tourism industry is the second largest industry in Goa. It has an overwhelming leverage over the water share compared to the indigenous population. The entire ward of Bativaddo in Cavelossim has no access to public supply and is completely dependent on unregulated and highly priced private tankers for their water needs. Statistical data has confirmed the appropriation of public water supplies to large hotels, while the supply of water to local communities remains erratic and limited. One five-star hotel in the neighbourhood consumes not less than 4500m3/day. The same amount is consumed by an entire village over the course of a whole month. Such are the increasing disparities between the tourism industry and the people.

Water resources, surface and ground, are stretched by the influx of tourists. Low budget hotels need on an average 573 litres of water per room per day; in contrast luxury hotels need 1,335 litres per room per day. And these are conservative estimates. Landscaped gardens, swimming pools, mini-golf courses, three or more restaurants and other water intensive activities for the recreation of tourists dominate the appropriation of water, even during the dry season of April and May.

The indifferent attitude of successive Goa state Governments to this problem has only worsened the situation. Every year the vulnerability of Goa’s coastal communities increases, while their bargaining power declines. Many of the community wells and water bodies are privatised by huge corporations and access to clean drinking water is a growing concern. The present Government aims to attract 6 million tourists within five years, but has not given a single thought to the concerns of local communities around natural resources and the carrying capacity of this small State. The resident population of Goa remains at 1.4 million (census 2011), whereas the tourist population ranges between 2.3 – 2.5 million. Such statistics beg serious questions about the sustainability of the present model of mass tourism being pursued.

Time to act
Research) under of Tourism Concern’s Water Equity in Tourism (WET) programme established that poorly regulated tourism development in Goa is impacting negatively upon water availability, accessibility and quality for many local households. The research indicates that there is growing concern among local people about weakly monitored consumption and irresponsible disposal of water by hotels and resorts. This includes the depletion of groundwater and wells, the pollution of waterways and beaches, the appropriation of public water supplies, and the forcing of households to abandon wells and depend on limited and unreliable piped supplies or unregulated private tankers. All these issues undermine the long-term sustainability of tourism in Goa, upon which so many livelihoods depend.

With local momentum calling for action to address water inequity building, there is an urgent need for national and international support to join the campaign, and to urge the Government of Goa to address this pressing issue and listen to the voices of the people.

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