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Fair access to water


As the world observes World Water Day (March 22) and the International Year of Water Cooperation, IDRC asked researchers:

How do we ensure fair and equitable access to water?

The quotes below represent a range of views on this important issue. The opinions expressed reflect those of the speaker, and not necessarily those of the International Development Research Centre.

Upstream, downstream

"Water will play a significant role in the next millennium due to fresh water shortages. To ensure fair and equitable access to water, we must protect our watersheds, the basic building blocks of the environment on which people, plants, and animals depend. It will take tremendous effort to protect lives, property, and water quality, but implementing wise watershed planning, protection, restoration, and education are of paramount importance, particularly for the deserts of North Africa."



Driss Ouazar

École Mohammadia d’Ingénieurs
Université Mohamed V-Agdal


IDRC/ D. O'Brien

Ayouba Hasseye Badou, Dr Moulay Driss Hasnaoui, and Driss Ouazar stand in an aquifer at Ain Acha in the Commune of Ait Ben Yaacoub, the IDRC-supported research site in Morocco.

One of Morocco’s leading hydrologists, Ouazar and his partner André St-Hillaire are leading an IDRC-supported team of researchers examining the effects of climate change on water and health in Morocco and Niger, and among Québec’s most vulnerable populations.

Eliminating double injustice

"Equity in access to water assumes the elimination of the double injustice lived by poor periurban communities: the lack of running water in these underserviced areas and the consumption of available water, which is polluted as a result of poor planning."


IDRC/H. Braun 

Oumar Cissé

African Institute for Urban Management (IAGU)

IDRC/N. Blouin

A girl draws water from a well just outside the Mbeubeuss landfill in Malika, Senegal.

With the support of IDRC, the IAGU has led a project that aims to reduce flood-related damages for people living in the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal. IDRC also supported the IAGU’s research into options to protect health, the environment, and livelihoods in the Mbeubeuss landfill.

Involving the community 

"Designing infrastructure sensitive to the needs of women and involving the entire community in the planning and monitoring will ensure fair and safe access to water for all women, which is a right of every human being."


Nigrani Samiti

Women’s Collective


Flickr/H. Arney,

With the support of IDRC, Jagori – Hindi for “awaken, women” – has worked with the Montréal-based Women in Cities International and the Nigrani Samiti women’s collective to improve water and sanitation services for women in low-income communities in New Delhi.





People and power 

"Recognition by the world’s governments that access to water is a human right will be the only safeguard and guarantee that never again will economic interests, with the abusive shadow of power, be responsible for our people’s thirst."

Flickr/K. Krüg

Juan Carlos Alurralde

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs



IDRC/ G.Graf

With the support of IDRC, water engineer Juan Carlos Alurralde led a team of researchers whose work helped put an end to Bolivia’s Water Wars and led to the country’s first
water law.







The economics of water

"Ensuring fair access to water depends upon recognizing that water fundamentally belongs to all people – rich or poor. It also means eliminating the high subsidies for the middle and upper classes connected to municipal systems in developing countries, so that utility providers recover enough costs to serve the unconnected poor – who often pay unacceptably high prices in informal markets."

IDRC/M. Valberg

Naser Faruqui



 Department for International Development/V. Francis

Faruqui directs IDRC’s work on Science and Innovation. In 1999, he was named one of the top 14 young water specialists in the world by the Third World  Centre for Water Management, the International Water Resources Association, and the Stockholm International Water Institute. Faruqui’s work has focused on water management in Islam, and the reuse of greywater and wastewater in agriculture.




Understanding social hierarchies

"To understand access to water, we must understand how South Asia’s complex social hierarchies of caste, class, and gender intersect and determine who has access to and control over water. Gender and caste disaggregated evidence collected by SaciWATERs shows that lack of access leads to marginalization of women, the poor, and lower castes. Such data will help cut through the rhetoric and better inform policy and programming to ensure fair access to water."

A. Prakash

Anjal Prakash




 Prakash is the executive director of the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies (SaciWATERs), a group of local research organizations across South Asia supported by IDRC examining the effects of climate change and urban sprawl on water across South Asia. The research teams are communicating with each other – and the world – through a website, blog, Facebook, and Flickr, as well as on a twitter feed.




Water is a precious resource

"Water is a precious resource, but it is vulnerable and limited. At the start of the rainy season in the Sahel, however, these conditions momentarily disappear to be replaced by a feeling of abundance and well-being, so much so that we often forget that it will be over in three months. Ensuring good water management is ensuring fair, equitable access for all."

Hamma Yacouba
Institut International d’ingénierie de l’eau et de l’environnement (2iE)
Burkina Faso





A low-cost reservoir developed by Yacouba’s team adjacent to farmers’ fields.

With the support of IDRC, Yacouba’s research team is exploring water conservation strategies in the face of Burkina Faso’s changing climate, constructing low-cost reservoirs adjacent to farmers’ fields to capture rainwater that can be used to irrigate crops. Research led by Yacouba’s team in Burkina Faso has shown that harvesting rainwater to supplement agricultural irrigation can lengthen the growing season and boost the yield of key staple foods like maize and sorghum by as much as 20%. This project is one of seven supported under the African Adaptation Research Centres initiative funded through the Government of Canada’s Fast-Start Financing. 



Communicating fair and equitable access

"Providing access to clear, objective information about the rights, duties, and responsibilities of communities and institutions concerning water management, from its source to wastewater treatment, will help ensure fair and equitable access to water."


Elena Ogusuku
Dirección General de Salud Ambiental, Ministry of Health



E. Ogusuku

A rice field in Lambayeque. Peru.

With the support of IDRC, Ogusuku and her partner Carmen Cruz have led award-winning research that has sought to prevent outbreaks of malaria, increase the availability of water, and alleviate social tensions over water management and agricultural production among rice farmers in Lambayeque, Peru. The project, which builds on 5 years of work, was funded as part of a regional competition sponsored by IDRC, the Organization of American States, the Pan-American Health Organization, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It builds on earlier research on agriculture and malaria sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development. The work has allowed farmers participating in the research to save 30-60% of water used in rice cultivation; increase rice yields by almost 25%; reduce pesticide use by 30%; and lower mosquito populations that transmit malaria by 90%.  


Improving accountability

"Water insecurity is as much a social phenomenon as an environmental one. Water users need legal and social means to hold water service providers accountable and ensure that they have access to water. Improving those mechanisms will help ensure fair and equitable access for all."


Vishal Narain
Management Development Institute




Narain is part of the South Asia Water Consortium (SaciWATERs), a group of local research organizations across South Asia supported by IDRC examining the effects of climate change and urban sprawl on water across South Asia. The research teams are communicating with each other – and the world – through a website, blog, Facebook, and Flickr, as well as on a twitter feed.

Striking a balance 

"We need to try our best to reach a balance between ensuring the provision of water – as a human right – for all and the need to conserve and properly allocate and utilize limited fresh water resources, for the welfare of society." 


IDRC/M. Yahia

Mohamed Abdrabo
Alexandria University





Gamasa farmer Bassem Farhat has seen his crops ruined by salty groundwater.

With the support of IDRC and the UK Department for International Development, Abdrabo has led research that sought to empower ordinary Egyptians in protecting coastal communities faced with rising sea levels in the Nile Delta. He is currently working to establish the Alexandria Research Centre for Adaptation to Climate Change at Alexandria University. This centre of excellence aims to build Egypt’s leadership on climate change adaptation, and is a project managed by IDRC and funded by the Government of Canada’s Fast-Start Financing.