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Vision to the future: Youth initiatives oriented to water management and accessibility


  • Raiza Quillahuaman

  • Daniel Cutimanco

  • Esteban Cabrera

The yearning for change

To understand reality is to have the ability to look at it from different perspectives beyond one's own; realities that, in many cases, are often very different from our own.

From an approach based on empathy and solidarity, it awakens in young people the desire to generate positive change. This, with the purpose of shortening those gaps that prevent many people from achieving a dignified and quality life.

Among these gaps that are needed to be bridged are the scarcity and poor accessibility to water, a vital resource for the development of life and that continues to be a longing for an important sector of the local and global population.

Despite a series of efforts made over the years to reduce this complex situation, much remains to be done. Learning from what has been done will allow us to generate better conditions for millions of people who need an improvement in terms of health and food; being aware of access to drinking water in the proliferation of diseases, as well as in the quality of agricultural and livestock production. UNHCR (2019)

From a global perspective: IWA + Youth for Water

We are facing a global problem where more than 40% of the population does not have access to water resources.

In Africa, two out of every three inhabitants of rural areas do not have access to drinking water, according to the Action Aid Organization, which causes deaths due to dehydration and malnutrition, as a result of the lack of food derived from the scarce agricultural and livestock production. In addition to generating precarious conditions that add to the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera, according to UN data (2019).

The excessive urban growth of Latin America, not unrelated to the problem, has increased the precarious conditions of the habitat, caused by the difficult access to clean and safe water.

Although Latin America is the subcontinent with the highest availability in the world, according to reports by Deutsche Welle (2021), it is important to differentiate between availability and access, where it is stated that "177 million inhabitants do not have water and sanitation services. In addition to this population, 256 million inhabitants in the region evacuate their waste through latrines and septic tanks", showing that the lack of water is equivalent to a greater creation of infectious foci of various viruses and germs.

In the face of these problems, various ways have been suggested to make impactful changes that help to mitigate the effects exposed. One fact to highlight is the importance of youth leadership in the resolution of problems and the search for solutions to the issues raised.

In particular, there are two international youth initiative organisations that stand out for their work in this field: The International Water Association (IWA) and the World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW).

IWA is a non-profit organisation and knowledge hub for the water sector. It is a networking environment where professionals (scientists, researchers, technology and water sector entrepreneurs, among others) from more than 130 countries generate innovative approaches to water issues.

Its Strategic Plan 2019-2024 (2019) indicates that the organisation is focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. One of the issues raised in the document is the difference in how the water issue affects countries according to their income level.

In lower-income countries, population growth and urbanisation have greatly increased the demand for water, generating the need to increase the supply of this public service through greater operational and commercial efficiency. High-income countries, on the other hand, are required to be aware of and to anticipate future challenges, as well as to collaborate with their lower-income peers.

Another problem faced is the lack of human resources caused by educational deficiencies. In this regard, IWA helps to bridge the capacity gap by training and preparing young people in water treatment and, in particular, sanitation.

Others IWA's functions are the integration of research and practice to support businesses and governments with technical skills. Thus, IWA has collaborated in finding appropriate pricing for water networks, decoding the DNA of wastewater or investigating the limits of reverse osmosis, a water purification process. In this way, IWA's work is both theoretical and practical, allowing it to apply the results of its research in projects and to collaborate with both public and private sectors.

In conclusion, IWA forms a network of professionals working for an intelligent, sustainable and equitable management of water resources. It also includes as part of its mission the promotion of knowledge on the water agenda, fostering innovation, providing expertise and leadership to its members, and supporting the international community in meeting the SDGs.

WYPW is a global network of young people from at least eighty countries. Its members address water-related issues such as accessibility and sanitation.

According to its website, the organisation's work is divided into Raise Awareness, Advocacy, Local action and Research.

Raise Awareness promotes education on water-related issues for young people in all countries. Advocacy aims to promote the mobilisation of young people to speak out with a forward-looking perspective for peaceful and sustainable water management. Local action focuses on supporting decentralised community projects, usually related to access to clean water, sanitation and healthy watershed management. Finally, Research focuses on the connections between society and the environment, and different perspectives on water resources management (World Youth Parliament for Water, 2021).

The organisation's website also provides the rationale for its work. Those are peace, equity and the environment.

Regarding peace, it states that the network is committed to international cooperation on shared water resources, prioritising the equitable and comprehensive participation of each stakeholder. Whitin equity, it is explained that the inclusion and consultation of minorities is sought in order to overcome inequalities. Finally, with regard to the environment, it is clarified that they advocate for greater confidence in the environment, seeking solutions based on and in balance with nature.

The website of UN Water, an inter-agency mechanism of the United Nations, notes that WYPW has a decentralised organisational structure, allowing members from different countries to work on water-related issues of their own interest. It further notes that WYPW's work is diverse, dynamic and focused on SDG 6.

A local perspective: Projects and initiatives for water management and accessibility in Peru.

In our country there are approximately 8 million Peruvians who deal with this context of scarcity, and subsist fr0m an informal supply system through cisterns that sell water at high prices in peri-urban areas, further segregating the low-income population. In addition to this, the precarious waste management facilities make it difficult to create a healthier and more adequate environment urgently, within a sanitary crisis such as the one we are currently facing.

However, within the complexity of the panorama, great solutions arise, thus explaining the generation of various projects and initiatives in Peru and around the world, that are managed mainly by young people, which mean hope for a future with a more responsible use and greater access to the most precious resource.

In view of this, water care in Peru has become a national policy. Many organizations (public, private and private) have created innovative projects, not only to protect this important element, but also to take it to more parts of the country.

According to the National Water Authority, or Autoridad Nacional del Agua (ANA) in spanish, "One out of every three Peruvians does not have access to water connections or, at best, enjoys restricted access. According to the Autoridad Nacional del Agua (ANA), this is not a case of high demand and scarce product: every year we waste 37% of the fluid, largely due to misuse in the agricultural sector and the high demand of industries such as mining," says the institution.

Initiatives led by universities and financed by the National Council for Science, Technology and Technological Innovation (Concytec, in spanish) and in agreement with the World Bank (WB), have been committed to developing scientific proposals aimed at improving the use, quality and distribution of water in the country, taking into account that many Peruvians still do not have direct access to this valuable resource.

As an example, we show the next projects, led by peruvian universities (two in Lima, one in Piura and one in Junín), which have committed to developing scientific proposals:

The work of the University of Piura "Optimization of water use in the flood irrigation system for organic bananas, used by small producers in the Chira Valley, Piura", focuses on the design of an optimized flood irrigation system that uses real data on the variables that affect the production process of organic bananas and measures the influence of intelligent water use on the final characteristics of the fruit and its productivity through a mathematical model.

"Design and validation of a mobile robot with an intelligent sensor for faults in primary water pipes in northern Lima" of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), the objective of the project is to develop and validate a solution that integrates a mobile robot and an intelligent census system for the detection and evaluation of internal faults in primary water pipes in northern Lima.

Recovering industrial water, the Universidad Nacional del Centro del Perú has the project: "Recovery of dairy industry effluents using indigenous microbial biomass and solar energy to produce water and bioenergy for agricultural use". The initiative aims to recover dairy industry effluents through the use of indigenous microbial biomass and solar energy, through a process that will not only produce water but also bioenergy for agricultural use.

"Study of natural iron oxide minerals for the development of remediation technologies for arsenic and/or persistent organic compounds (POPs) contaminated water remediation under the solar photo-Fenton-like process", from the National University of Engineering (UNI). The objective is to study natural iron oxides from Peruvian deposits for their massive use in the integral remediation of contaminated water, taking advantage of their adsorbent properties for arsenic removal and destruction of persistent organic compounds (POPs).

  1. Conclusions

The call to action and the cost of doing nothing

Throughout the article, the idea of encouraging the execution of initiatives and studies that can be implemented, both in the short and medium term, is positioned.

We believe it is important to promote the importance of the applicability of knowledge, as a product of research with high scientific rigor within a local context lacking opportunities, for an authentic innovation that can generate a multi-sectoral impact with a significant scope.

The cost of doing nothing can be very high and irreversible, for which investment plans and execution strategies must be proposed. And, if those are oriented towards knowledge management and the purpose of youth initiatives, it would generate greater opportunities to make the desired change of adequate water management a reality.

Youth participation as a fundamental basis

It is also important to highlight the role of youth in the initiatives presented. Given the vision for the future of water management, it is essential that young people, both locally and internationally, show the greatest interest in the appropriate long-term use of water resources.

The work carried out by both IWA and WYPW organisations in training young people and the projects developed by Peruvian universities, show the commitment of the new generations to achieve a change in the management of this precious resource.

The need for collaborative work to make the objectives set feasible.

Better coordination is required between the different state institutions involved in water resources management and, above all, a common vision that will allow us to address this problem and incorporate these elements that are becoming more and more necessary every day, especially in order to have a sustainable and quality service.

It is urgent that not only the authorities take attitudes and measures to stop and reverse this problem, but also that each one of us, from the place where we are, take care and use this increasingly scarce resource in a responsible manner.



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