The quest for effective water conservation: A study its prospects and challenges


Water is one of the most important necessity in the human life, it is used for different activities in their day to day activities, hence the need for it. Activities involve such as drinking, washing clothes and the household materials, for building purposes, for animal care both drinking and hygiene, for agricultural activities such as irrigation and crop growth etc. there is nowhere in the world that water is not important. Water covers about 71% of the earth’s surface. Out of this percentage of water, only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is fresh water, and 98.8% of that water is in ice and groundwater. Less than 0.3% of all freshwater is in rivers, lakes, and the atmosphere, and an even smaller amount of the Earth’s freshwater (0.003%) is contained within biological bodies and manufactured products (Wikipedia).

Dry lands are areas in which annual evapotranspiration exceeds rainfall and in which agricultural productivity is limited by poor availability of moisture. They occur throughout the world and comprise not less than 40% of the global surface landmass (6.4 billion ha) and are found in about 100 countries the world over. They are home to about 1.2 billion people and 350 000 plant species, of which 3000 are known to be useful to mankind. In Africa, dry lands cover 1.96 billion ha in 25 countries (65% of continental landmass). Nearly 400 million Africans live in the arid and semiarid lands of the continent. With the dry land population increasing at the rate of 3% a year, the natural resources of Africa’s dry lands must feed an additional 12 million people every year; this is despite degradation of the dry land natural resource base (Jamal et al,2005).

Water conservation and management is one of the main problems facing dry lands in the world today. This is due to water shortages and scarcity caused by the natural physical factors in these regions and lack of creation of awareness on the conservation of the available water resources in the region. Around the world, water conservation and management is has been made difficult due to water scarcity, different places in the world face this similar problem, most of which they are not necessarily in dry lands. Water scarcity affects every continent and around 2.8 billion people around the world at least one month out of every year. It is estimated by the UN that by 2025 up to 1.8 billion people could face water scarcity (Wikipedia).

Water shortage problems are expected to continue since growing populations, increasing demands, water pollution, and governance problems continue to strain water supply systems in several regions of the world. Without considering the effects of climate change, projections show that 2.9 – 3.3 billion people could be living in water stressed watersheds by 2025. Most of these people will be from developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia. Being a common problem around the world, water shortages are likely to be a growing concern in many regions during the 21st century. An estimated 1.1 billion people in developing countries (16% of the world population) lack access to adequate supplies of quality water, and 2.6 billion people (39% of the world population) lack access to adequate sanitation. The result of these water problems would be a greater number of people will find it increasingly difficult to meet their basic water needs. This has the potential for increasing water stress on people and the environment, as well as conflicts between water users that share aquifers, streams, and other water sources. As demands increase, people will increase struggling to secure their fair share of water (UNDP, 2010).

In china, water is a major problem affecting the country, the northern part of china is already a water scarce region and china as a whole will soon join the group of water stressed countries if the issue is not well managed. The scarce water resources in the region are poorly managed predominantly through inefficient and unsustainable practices. Inefficient water policies and weak institutional capacity and implementation are the leading sources (World Bank, 2005).

India is also another country where water conservation is a crisis. This is due to poor management, unclear laws, corrupt government and increased industrial and human waste. Climate change and increase in population growth has also exacerbated this crisis in the country. The most affected in this crisis are the Indian villages and communities at the lower class. Women and children also suffer most as they have to walk long distances to get water for domestic use. In western states of Gujarati and Maharashtra, rainfall during the last two monsoons has been less than 50% of the average compared with 93% in 2001. If this crisis is not conserved and managed, India is vulnerable to future water stress. The implications of this water crisis extend beyond agricultural and industrial challenges; the social dynamics of Indian villages changing (Times of India magazine, 2013 and

Botswana is a semi-arid and drought prone country. Only about 10% is cultivable land (FAO 1995), the rest is dominated by the Kalahari Desert. Apart from the perennial rivers and wetlands in the north (Zambezi and the Okavango) and the east (the Limpopo), the country suffers from lack of surface water and development relies heavily on groundwater. Water is a scarce resource in Botswana. This undoubtedly requires good planning which should take into consideration both short and long-term effects of water use. The country is already experiencing ‘water stress’ (UNEP 1999) and it not only suffers from a lack of surface water, but also the major surface resources are located far from the areas of the demand, imposing high costs on the exploitation of existing surface water resources. At the current rates of abstraction, it is estimated that Botswana’s water reserves will be exhausted between 2028 and 2035 (Strzepek et al. 1998).Thus, water forms a serious constraint for the nature and size of human activities in Botswana, making it necessary to conserve it. Botswana is currently working to change attitudes towards its scarce water resources in order to ensure sufficient water in the future for a growing population. “Save water, save life, save money” is one of the key slogans used by the utility (Water Utility Corporation 2010). Despite the campaign, some residents act as if the country has an unlimited supply of water for one can see leaking water pumps and pipes, and toilets where the water runs all day and night (Pendley, 2010).

In Kenya, a country of about 40 billion people struggles with a staggering population growth rate of 26% per year (by comparison, US population growth rate of 0.899% and India population growth rate of 1.31%) this high population had pushed the country’s natural resources to the blink of destruction. Much of the country suffers from severe arid climate, with only few areas enjoying rain and access of water resources (Wikipedia). Deforestation and soil degradation have made the available surface water typically highly polluted. Areas that are highly affected by water scarcity include the North Eastern part of the country and the Eastern part of the country. This has led to low agricultural production on the areas, livestock and human death due to droughts and famine, gender is highly affected in their way of living, migration of people, among others. With the country have only five water towers which are faced with severe degradation due to anthropogenic activities. Without their protection and conservation the ecosystem services and water security in the country would worsen having a negative effect on the economic development of Kenya and the living conditions of its population (Baur& Woodhouse, 2010).

Water conservation initiatives

Water conservation initiatives are important as they help mitigate water issues that occur in a given area. The initiatives involve activities that help to solve the water challenges that face the region, mostly include the activities at the grassroots level. Some of the initiatives that have been discussed by other scholars include;

a.) Rain water harvesting

Rain water harvesting is one of the common water harvesting tactics used by people. This is done through gutter collection to the water tanks. Despite the fact that rainfall is minimal in the ASAL regions, when the long rains occur, water harvesting should take place.

According to Baur and Woodhouse (2010) they give an example of Mwala District in Machakos County. They say that despite the fact that rainfall amounts and distribution rarely meet crop water requirements; rain fed agriculture constitutes 70% of rural employment and economic activities. The greatest challenge to sustainable crop production remains how to cope with recurrent droughts and prolonged dry spells. Moreover, the problem of water scarcity in the district is exacerbated by salinity of ground water, distant location and contamination of surface sources. Thus, he sees the need for small scale rainwater harvesting technologies for household water and for supplementary irrigation was identified as suitable interventions to boost food security as well as standards of living

Fredrick (1999) states that water-short societies and many countries have attempted both to move water from where it occurs in nature to where people wanted it and also to store water for future use. Human efforts to change the water cycle date back to ancient times. Primitive societies tried to bring rain through prayer, rain dances, human and animal sacrifices and other rituals. According to Helweg (2000) Persians constructed hundreds of Karize’s, tunnels used to bring water from an underground source in the mountainous area down to the foothills. This method of irrigation spread over the Middle East into North Africa over the centuries and is still used today. The ancient Egyptian economy was centered round the annual flood pattern of the Nile. Mays (1996) describes how the Egyptians built thousands of canals and irrigation ditches to capture the Nile’s waters in order to grow crops.

One of the key water control structures is that of the dam. According to (McCartney, 1999) and (Cosgrove, 2000) there are around 40,000 large dams, higher than 15 meters and more than 800,000 smaller ones worldwide. Most of them were built in the last 50 years with a combined capacity of 6000 km³. They offer development benefits through hydropower, drinking water supplies, flood control and recreation opportunities. Although dams help ensure a steady water supply especially during dry seasons they often endanger aquatic ecosystems (plant and animal life) by disrupting flood cycles, blocking river channels, altering water flows in rivers, floodplains, deltas and other natural wetlands.

b.) Integrated land and water resource management (IWRM)    

In low rainfall and drought-prone areas, over-grazing by cattle beyond carrying capacity and shifting cultivation by increasing encroachment of marginal lands continue to undermine the already fragile ecological balance. Over the past three decades, semi-arid lands have come under pressure of people and livestock at a rate considerably faster than the more fertile areas (Hudson, 1987). Consequently, conditions of hunger and even famine are increasingly becoming evident in these areas as is the occurrence of drought. This has set in motion endemic poverty and degradation of land and water resources. There is therefore need to develop simple on-farm techniques to control soil loss, improve rainwater utilization for crop and livestock production and to enhance soil fertility.

According to Donkor et al (1997) there is need to plan for an integrated usage of land and water, it is important to assess the biophysical interaction particularly land degradation caused by land use change such as the effects of farming, deforestation and increase in human population, livestock or wildlife. The writers also suggest that IWRM should include: Integrated planning of water resources which should involve socio-economic, environmental and technical aspects into a decision-making framework. Almost all activities which take place in a catchment area that could adversely affect the conditions of aquatic ecosystems in terms of water quality and quantity, biological communities and the integrity of aquatic ecosystems should be subjected to an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Participatory approach that is; involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels. It involves raising awareness of the importance of water among policy-makers and the general public. Decisions at all levels should be through full public consultation and involvement of users in the planning and implementation of water projects.

Revising the role of women in water issues through positive policies to equip and empower women to participate at all levels in water resources programmes. Recognition of the economic value of water is stated as important in order to reduce wastefulness and environmentally damaging uses of these resources. Decentralization of water management plays a key role in the process of integrated water management; the lowest possible unit of management should be fostered. This requires the establishment of a permanent framework for the local populations to vent their problems and needs, assume their environmental responsibilities, and acquire the knowledge and skills required to make decisions and launch initiatives. The structure of this framework should correspond to local socio-cultural, ecological and economic conditions. Local participation should be backed by close cooperation at higher institutional levels: between the departments or ministries that administer water, forests, the environment, agriculture etc. (Donkor et al, 1997)

c.) Community-based water management

Community-based water management involves being in collaboration with the area community in water resource management and conservation. These approaches have been widely adopted to meet this dual challenge of market and government failures. However, it is well-known that communities may also fail to provide services effectively due to problems such as elite capture and limited capacity.

According to a report by Community Water Initiatives (2013), they look at the opportunities and challenges of community-based rural drinking water supplies. The writers express the need of community based water management. Using Ghana as an example, the writers were aimed to assess the potential benefits and challenges of community-based water management. Ghana is a largely agricultural country with a population of about 20 million people. It is estimated that one-half of the population has access to safe water resources. Ghanaian populations living in rural areas have very limited access to pipe water. The country is faced budget constraints, low revenues, and shortfalls in operation and maintenance, which has resulted in insufficient expansion of the system and failure to satisfy rural water needs. In Ghana, district assemblies have gradually assumed more responsibilities, these has transformed the structure of its rural water supply and transferred responsibilities for water management both to the district assemblies and to community-based organizations that operate outside the local government structure. Ghana was one of the first countries to introduce a community-based approach to rural water supply on a large scale (Kleemeier, 2000). Its approach is in line with current drinking water policies in many countries, which are based on the paradigm that rural drinking-water supply facilities, such as improved hand-dug wells or hand pump–fitted boreholes, are best managed by local water users. This paradigm also entails the principle of “treating water as an economic good,” which assumes that water users are willing to pay for water services if appropriate management approaches are used Communities were encouraged to take responsibility for their own water supply. Nongovernmental organizations and the private sector are usually the providers for the design, construction, and maintenance of water supplies. The district assemblies in rural Ghana play a significant role in planning water facilities and allocating funds for this purpose, the private sector had become active in drilling and other water supply services, and communities had been assigned the full responsibility for maintaining their supply facilities (Sun, Asante, & Birner, 2010)

Using survey data from Sri Lanka and India, Isham and Kahkonen (2002) found that well-designed and well-constructed water services are two significant factors for effective community-based approaches. The authors found that it is important to involve household members in the design process and in the final decision about the type of system to build. Likewise, systems work better if the households’ contribution to construction (for example, cash or labour) is monitored. Social capital was found to be associated with the above two factors. In communities with higher levels of social capital (for example, with more active community groups), community members were more likely to engage in design as well as monitoring.

Analyzing the performance of water systems, Katz and Sara (1997) found that the community-based approach significantly increased sustainability. The authors established a strong linkage between participation of the household members and sustainability of the projects. The most important factors contributing to success can be summarized as information accessible to the households, capacity building at all levels, training in operations and maintenance, control over funds, and good quality construction. The study also observed that the approach did not work consistently well among the communities. In some cases, the projects were supply driven (for example, not offering communities different options). In other cases, community representatives failed to consider the demands of disadvantaged groups. Writers also suggested some factors that are important for the success of community-based approaches to effective water conservation; the involvement of the communities in design, construction, evaluation, operation, and maintenance of the water projects; household contributions to water projects in the form of cash and labour; social capital and local leadership; and provisions to ensure women’s participation (Sun, Asante & Birner, 2010).

d.) Gender involvement in water conservation

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, responsibilities, rights power, needs and constraints of men and women within a given society (FAO, 2010). This involves including all people in terms of sex in water conservation projects. Gender being a sensitive subject in the African communities, it is a sector that needs complete attention in order to sensitize people. It is believed that women and children should be the ones in charge of household affairs. Doing gender sensitization will play a major role in managing water conservation.

Gender plays a major role in the management of resources. According to Cecile(1992), the writer gives an example of the importance of gender involvement in water conservation. Mali, a country in North Africa is an arid area and thus there are many water projects involved. There are Community-Managed Wells which are drilled by the government. However, one case showed how an initiative can fail if women are not involved in planning. The Macina Wells project failed to incorporate an understanding of gender roles and inequalities in project planning. Management of the wells was handed over to (male) community leaders without consulting women in the planning of the new resource or its continued management. Women were allocated cleaning tasks. The systems and equipment set up were impractical for women, though they were the ones primarily responsible for collecting water from the well. As a result, at peak times, women dismantled the equipment and went back to their old ways of collecting water. Moreover, the men who were involved as caretakers failed to adequately fulfill their roles since water and sanitation were seen as a women’s domain.

According to Margreet (1994), she talks about involving gender issues in all sectors. She states that “women and men should be involved in equal activities thus promoting development.” In the water sector, conservation should be gender involved so that everybody in the community should have a responsibility towards conservation and management. Sensitization on relevant water issues should be done and through gender involvement, in community water based projects and also household responsibilities, degradation of resources and overuse will be mitigated and half the problem on water challenges solved.

Role of stakeholders in water conservation

Stakeholder involvement is very important in any given project. They usually play a major role in a project. According to Quentin and Karen, (2011) they talk about water being an increasingly critical issue at the forefront of global policy change, management and planning. There are growing concerns about water as a renewable resource, its availability for a wide range of users, aquatic ecosystem health, and global issues relating to climate change, water security, water trading and water ethics. They bring together multiple disciplines to understand and help resolve problems of water quality and scarcity from a global perspective. They also talk about stakeholder involvement, where they state that there are varying stakeholders’ engagements for any water resource situation. Stakeholders help in a lot of issues; they are always informed and planned over emerging issues that are coming up. They play roles such as; they inform, in some situations, stakeholders provide accurate and timely information which help people understand the issues at hand. Stakeholders also act as consultants. They involve an active way of communication where the public and other agencies can be engaged in understanding the background information of the problem. They influence the decision making process through their inputs. Stakeholders also give a collaboration platform, where they make sure that all sectors are fully represented, determining the issues and questions addressed. They generally act as problem solvers with a genuine sense of empowerment (Quentin & Karen, 2011).

Problems constraining the realization of water conservation goals

a.) Poverty levels

Poverty is a major issue affecting different communities in the world today. It highly affects development in a country and the normal functioning of a community. Poverty is about more than a short falling income or calorie intake. It is about the denial of opportunities and choices that are widely regarded as essential to lead a long, healthy, creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem and the respect of others (UNEP, 2000). According to the UNEP (2000), problems of poverty are inextricably linked with those of water. Introducing methods like rainwater harvesting improves water availability, its proximity, its quantity and its quality. Improving the access of poor people to water has the potential to make a major contribution towards poverty eradication. The collection of rainwater for supplementary irrigation has proved extremely valuable to deal with rainfall variability particularly at household and community level. This has led to improved agricultural production, enhanced food security and poverty reduction.

b.) Illiteracy levels

Illiteracy levels are common among the communities in the ASALs. In many of the semi-arid and arid areas of the Kenya, pastoralists have very little formal education. The low literacy levels, particularly among women and girls, adversely affect development; they exacerbate the limited access to and analysis of information, and reduce opportunities for influencing political decision-making processes at local and national level.

The North Eastern Province suffers from chronic water shortages, and relies heavily on water trucking. Persistent droughts have led to rampant food insecurity. According to Dida and Mohammed (2000) the situation is worst in the Western Mandera District, where there is not a single permanent water source. This adds to the risk of dehydration, which threatens the inhabitants’ lives. Water shortages generate poor hygienic conditions and water borne diseases. They state that, Thirty per cent of all hospital admissions and fifty per cent of childhood morbidity in the area is related to water, sanitation and hygiene. The writers say that illiteracy is one of the major problems facing the community that is to be blamed for the water challenges. They rate illiteracy levels at 92% North Eastern Province. Many women in particular have never had an opportunity to go to school. There is need for addressing this severe problem by establishing a literacy center, offering literacy training and other adult education specifically designed to meet the needs of women. They also state that literacy is a key asset in improving the living conditions of women in this area. Knowledge of reading for these women is essential in earning a living, and in supporting themselves and their children. In addition, literacy reduces child mortality and improves family health. Women who are able to read are also empowered to oppose oppression, domestic violence and Female Genital Mutilation (Dida & Mohammed, 2000).

3.) Lack of creating awareness in water conservation

Creating awareness is one of the most important steps to take from the grassroots level. It involves giving civic education on the problem. The community is given small skills and know how on what to do within given problem or challenge and also ways of preventing or mitigating negative outcomes. Creating awareness on Climate adaptability and environmentally sustainable approach is important according to a publication by the “Community Water Initiatives” who have adopted a distinctive perspective that considers environmental sustainability of the water supply activities. For example, CWI promotes the use of solar energy for water pumping, and integrates water supply activities with conservation of water sources, reforestation, and water resource management. In Mauritania, a strategy to promote carbon-neutral water services has been implemented, combining an environmental approach with development practices (Community Water Initiatives, 2013).

Newman et al, (2002) reviewed rural water projects in two regions in Bolivia and found that community-level training (for example, on cleaning water tanks, repairing water tubes, and managing user fees) was critical for improving water quality. He advocates toward creating awareness to the communities as a way to help in initiating water conservation projects.

In a study of Zimbabwe, Cleaver (1999) found that the empowerment and long-term effectiveness of participation approaches was rather complex. He identified limitations of communities in mobilizing the necessary resources, either through collecting funds from community members or lobbying government officials. These problems prevailed even where communities were well motivated and organized. Mobilization and community sensitization through awareness is important as it helps in the realization of initiatives used in water conservation.

d.) Population increase.

Increase in population is a major problem in facing the water sector. Population increases in a high rate that leads to the over use of the water resource .According to Gleick (2000) he indicates that there are five major drivers demanding a huge expansion of water resources in the 20th century: population growth, industrial development, expansion of irrigated agriculture, massive urbanization and rising standards of living. He gives an example of the water scarcity issues in the Middle East and predicts that population increase alone will push all of the Middle East into water scarcity over the next two decades.

Population increase mostly occurs in big cities due to rural-urban migration. Some of the world’s biggest cities, including Beijing, Buenos Aires, Dhaka, Lima and Mexico City, depend heavily on groundwater for their water supply. The heavy population in this cities lead to overuse of water which is not sustainable, because it takes many years to fill aquifers. A research by UNEP gave that groundwater from aquifers under or close to Mexico City, for example, provides it with more than 3.2 million m3 per day, but already water shortage occurs in many parts of the capital. A related effect is that Mexico City has sunk more than 10 m over the past 70 years. Bangkok, similarly depleting its aquifer for drinking and sanitation, is also slowly sinking. Most of the world’s megacities are located on coast lines, where aquifer depletion leads to saltwater intrusion and the contamination of freshwater, (UNEP, 2000; Cosgrove, 2000).


Water being a major necessity for the livelihood and survival of the human population. There is; need to manage and control it, through this, there are several issues that hinder the realization of water conservation. These challenges are almost similar all over the world especially in the ASAL areas. The challenges of water conservation are mostly faced by the communities in the rural areas than in the urban centers. This is because development in the rural areas has not been fully implemented and it has its own challenges, hence the rural people suffer more. These challenges lead to constrains to the governments and other interested stakeholders to provide good quantity and quality of water.

Water conservation should be a major concern in the world in order to promote sustainable development in all regions. There is no single and simple solution to water problems. Applying the lessons learned from successful methods elsewhere and allowing some modification to these methods can greatly improve the effectiveness of water projects. The challenges facing water conservation should be mitigated and controlled by the community as a whole. This brings communities to come together to help protect and manage the water and its resources.


The following recommendations will help to achieve the desired objectives in order to mitigate and control the challenges facing water conservation:

  • Awareness campaigns by policy makers can also help in water conservation. These campaigns should aim for behavioural changes based on new attitudes and social norms towards water use.
  • Increase voluntary water conservation through educational efforts, which may include a campaign to encourage installation of water conservation devices and more responsible use of water for livestock, washing, and other activities.
  • Use of several policy tools can help influence water use and conservation. These tools such as regulation, pricing and awareness campaigns should be implemented to help manage water consumption.
  • Other methods include replacing shower heads and faucet aerators with water efficient models to conserve water in the urban areas. The use of a water-filled jug or plastic bottle in toilet tanks to displace water which will allow the toilet to operate using less water.
  • Capacity building for community-level governance through community water management committees, women empowerment, and the establishment of water user fee schemes.
  • Strong political lobbying by stake holders with the need to maintain independent domestic livestock production will lead policymakers to direct conservational efforts in the urban-rural residential sector.
  • Enhance gender mainstreaming and advocacy efforts for the achievement of sustainable and effective water conservation for improved livelihoods.
  • Climate change adaptation activities, like planting trees in high lands and introduction of water pans.
  • The local communities should be involved in programme initiations that involve water conservation, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
  • Use of participatory approaches should be included in capacity building through; trainings, workshops, seminars and exchange visits.
  • Forage and fodder conservation-annual grasses and acacia pods
  • Sustainable charcoal production
  • Integrated soil and water conservation technologies
  • Using drought escaping crops and using the available water resources for sustainable crop production for example sack technology.
  • Introduction and maintenance of community-based water supply and sanitation services using low-cost systems manageable by communities.


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