New report reveals massive water inequity between tourism and locals

goaA report launched today (09/07/2012) by Tourism Concern reveals the stark inequities of water access and consumption between tourist resorts and local people in developing countries. Water Equity in Tourism – A Human Right, A Global Responsibility, demands concerted action by governments and the tourism sector to protect community water rights over tourist luxury. Download report

Featuring research from Bali, The Gambia, Zanzibar, and Goa and Kerala, south India, the report finds that the unsustainable appropriation, depletion and pollution of water by poorly regulated tourism are threatening the environment, while undermining living standards, livelihoods and development opportunities of impoverished local communities.

These communities often remain excluded from the benefits of tourism, but also include small businesses trying to earn a living from the sector in a context where government policies tend to favour international hotels and tour operators over local entrepreneurs. This scenario is leading to social conflict and resentment, while threatening the sustainability of the tourism sector itself.

Zanzibar: Luxury hotels consume up to 3,195 litres of water per room per day; average household consumption – 93.2 litres of water per day. Guards patrol hotel pipelines to prevent vandalism by angry locals. A power cut led to a cholera outbreak in which at least four villagers died after consuming well water thought to have become contaminated with sewage from nearby hotels (4).

Goa, India: One five-star resort consumes some 1785 litres of water per guest per day; a neighbouring resident consumes just 14 litres of water per day. Community wells are being abandoned due to contamination and declining water tables.

Kerala, India: Sewage and fuel from mushrooming numbers of tourist houseboats are polluting Kerala’s intricate system of backwaters, affecting fish catches and livelihoods, and forcing communities to increasingly depend upon limited and erratic piped supplies.

Bali, Indonesia: Bali’s iconic rice paddies are being lost at a rate of 1000 hectares a year due to spiralling land prices and the diversion of water to coastal resorts, threatening a water and food crisis. Despite being a ‘tourist paradise’, diarrhoea prevalence remains above the national average (5).

The Gambia: Women rise at 4am to queue for hours at water standpipes. Most hotels have private boreholes and pumps to ensure a constant water supply, but fail to pay for what they consume, despite the desperate need to finance improvements to public water infrastructure.

“The benefits of tourism-related jobs and economic growth are grossly undermined where governments fail to protect water rights and the environment from the impacts of poorly planned tourism development”, says Rachel Noble, Head of Policy and Research at Tourism Concern.

“Hotels and tour operators also have a clear responsibility to respect human rights in their operations and supply chains (6). It’s time for the sector to take responsibility for its water use and address the wider impacts of its consumption beyond the hotel walls”, says Noble. “The UK Government needs to provide clear guidance to UK-based tourism businesses in this regard”. More about Tourism Concern’s campaign for a UK Commission on Business, Human Rights and Environment

The report offers nine Principles of Water Equity in Tourism for governments, the tourism sector and civil society, as well as detailed recommendations for each set of stakeholders.

“The threats to water resources in tourist destinations are complex and challenging (7), and demand a coordinated response to effectively address them. We hope the WET Principles and recommendations will serve as useful guidance for governments and the tourism industry, and help to galvanise the necessary action to ensure that the water rights of poor communities are not compromised by tourism development,” states Noble.

Some 884 million people lack sufficient access to water and sanitation globally (11). In many tourism destinations in the global South, lack of infrastructure, government capacity and resources means that communities struggle to meet their daily water needs. The physically burdensome and time-consuming task of fetching water usually falls to women, which prevents them for engaging in other activities that could help them pull themselves and their families out of poverty. Meanwhile, neighbouring resorts and hotels consume vast quantities of water in the servicing of guest rooms, landscaped gardens, swimming pools and golf courses.

Holidaymakers are also encouraged to play their part by following Tourism Concern’s water saving tips for tourists (8), and by signing the Water Equity in Tourism campaign petitions targeting the state governments of Goa (9) and Kerala (10).


1. Water Equity in Tourism: A Human Right, A Global Responsibility (2011) features the full case studies from Zanzibar, The Gambia, Goa, Kerala and Bali and is available to download from here.

2. The WET Principles can be found on page 3 of the report or viewed here: The full recommendations can be found on page 27 or viewed here:

3. The full research report from Goa can be downloaded here: The Gambia research report can be downloaded here. The Zanzibar research report is available here.

4. The cholera outbreak occurred following a 3-month power cut in the village of Jambiani in 2010.

5. Jakarta Post, 4th March 2009.

6. Unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clarify the responsibility of all businesses to respect human rights throughout their activities and supply chains. See:

7. Besides tourism industry consumption and lack of infrastructure and government capacity, water resources are under pressure from the adverse impacts of climate change, urbanisation, population growth, agriculture, other industrial demands, and deforestation.

8. Our water saving tips for tourists can be viewed at:

9. Tourism Concern is working with our local partners, Eco Footprints and the Council for Social Justice and Peace, to demand an end to water injustice in Goa. See:

10. In Alleppey, Kerala, we are campaigning with local groups Kabani and GSGK for the protection of backwater communities from rapidly expanding houseboat tourism:

11. United Nations General Assembly, 2010. See:

12. Tourism Concern is an independent UK-based NGO challenging exploitative forms of tourism and working to promote more ethical alternatives.


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