LONDON—A report launched July 9 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.
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 favor 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 liters of water per room per day; average household consumption—93.2 liters 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.
Goa, India: One five-star resort consumes some 1,785 liters of water per guest per day; a neighboring resident consumes just 14 liters of water per day. Community wells are being abandoned due to contamination and declining water tables.
Houseboats Pollute Backwaters
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 1,000 hectares a year due to spiraling land prices and the diversion of water to coastal resorts, threatening a water and food crisis. Despite being a “tourist paradise,” diarrhea prevalence remains above the national average.
The Gambia: Women rise at 4 a.m. 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. 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. The U.K. Government needs to provide clear guidance to U.K.-based tourism businesses in this regard.”
Report Offers Nine Principles of Water Equity
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, and demand a coordinated response to effectively address them,” Noble says. “We hope the WET Principles and recommendations will serve as useful guidance for governments and the tourism industry, and help to galvanize the necessary action to ensure that the water rights of poor communities are not compromised by tourism development.”
Some 884 million people lack sufficient access to water and sanitation globally. 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 from engaging in other activities that could help them pull themselves and their families out of poverty. Meanwhile, neighboring resorts and hotels consume vast quantities of water in the servicing of guestrooms, landscaped gardens, swimming pools and golf courses.
Click here to download the report.