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Water Ethics and Management: Counting Each Drop

Water Ethics in Egypt, water management, RCWE

Imagine life without water. We hardly ever think, we may wake up one morning and find no water or even find out that we have to pay to get a drop. We tend to think it is the responsibility of the government but in fact we all have an important role to play. Water scarcity is increasing due to over-demand because of population growth and economic progress combined with poor management of water resources.

Arab countries represent 10% of the world’s surface with a population making up to 5% of the world’s population. Yet the Arab world only possesses 0.5% of world renewable freshwater resources. This is mainly because arid and semi-arid weather dominates 82.2% of the whole region. Out of the 2228 billion cubic meters of rainfall precipitation 90.4% of water is lost due to evaporation. In addition, the region is witnessing rapid population growth and climatic changes adding to water shortages. This poses a serious threat to stability.

The Global Research and Ethical Network Embracing Water (RENEW) was created in 2001 as part of UNESCO’s World Commission on Ethics of Science and Technology (COMEST). RENEW has three nodes serving three regions: Bergen in Scandinavia, Canberra in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and Cairo serving Egypt, Arab countries and the Nile Basin.

The Regional Center for Research and Studies of Water Use Ethics (RCWE) Egypt is the third node of the RENEW Network. It works to develop and support research, studies and training as well as promotion of awareness and educational material on water use ethics to the Arab and African region.

RCWE reports to a higher committee headed by the first lady of Egypt. The center developed a water code of ethics for public distribution in the near future. It elaborates on the concept of ethical use of water resources and provides guidelines and indicators on the extent of commitment to ethical behavior. It also provides examples to enhance social and economic responsibility on water use and management.

“This code is a reflection of a cultural approach for change in behavior towards efficient use of every drop of water” commented his Excellency Ambassador Dr. Magdy Hefny the Director of the Regional Center for Research and Studies of Water Use Ethics (RCWE).

“The greatest challenge we face today is to optimize the return on every drop of water and to preserve its quality. This matter needs a culture based on commitment to deal with water in the spirit of social responsibility. It is considered as part of the social contract that guarantees participation of the various stakeholders in all stages of planning and decision-making” said Dr. Hefny.

With such alarming figures there is a need to be pro-active and to start observing our own behavior in the use of this scarce and valuable resource. Decision makers as well need to consider and review policies that affect water use.

According to Dr. Hefny, “RCWE vision is to actualize water use ethics among various stakeholders and to serve as a center for learning by using information, technology and networking. Formulating indicators and standards of responsible social conduct in relation to water use is a priority. A monitor was created highlighting the most important aspects and issues relating to water use ethics and research.”

We need to bring things that are on paper to life. As human beings we need to have a sense of shared responsibility for problems that affect humanity such as water scarcity. Being aware and more responsible in the way we use resources like water is essential and cannot be put aside at this point.

When we talk about ethics it is hard to define as it is a term that is interpreted differently in different cultures. For this reason, the term social responsibility is often used today as it is more specific and also gives way to accountability.

“If we come to talk about water ethics, it could be defined as the behavior of water users. If this behavior is good and in conformity with the law, tradition and the value system then this behavior is considered ethical” commented Dr. Hefny.

“Ethics are considered to be the moral component of decisions taken as well by people who are managing the water sector. These persons need to have ethical water behavior and should consider moral aspects including the fact that every human being has the right to water. Access to water should include the marginalized and also the poor. It should not be dealt with as a commodity influenced by market forces (supply and demand) and thus should never be priced as some persons may be denied their right if unable to pay” added Dr. Hefny.

Pricing water would be a disaster as some people will end up denied one of their basic human rights, the right to water. We are thus left with only one choice which is to change our own behavior so that we can ensure water will continue to be available for the future generation for no price.

“We need to concentrate our efforts on the new generation of young people and also on children. This means that water ethics needs to be included in school curriculums. Women need to be educated on the uses of water so that they influence the future as well. The media has a major role to play in disseminating information to the public” said Dr. Hefny.

“If we are careful and create more projects to conserve water and if we manage to re-use ground water, we can preserve it and even increase it. We need to promote water ethics and affect the generation of today by rationalizing their use so that resources can be sustained for the future” added Dr. Hefny.

Ultimately, no matter what this means to us and who we view as responsible, we are in fact all responsible at least at the individual level. Whether it is a problem we sense in the midst of several others that maybe more important to us, we need to always remember our children and remember that water is life. Water is not there to stay. We need to think and change our own behavior and ethics in its use before it is too late.
Published: 2008-03-04
Author: Noha Hefny

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