By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Experts in water management and sustainable development on Monday called for mainstreaming women’s leadership in improving water services and natural resource conservation efforts.

During the International Conference on Integration of Gender Dimensions in Water Management, which opened yesterday, participants from several Mediterranean countries underscored the importance of empowering women as a means towards achieving sustainable development.

Stressing that attitudinal change at the grassroots level should be as significant as top-down policy changes, HRH Princess Basma noted that in many societies women have long been the managers of their households and the providers of water, often having to travel distances and shoulder burdens at great risk to provide water for their families.

“Today, with the rapid urbanisation of the Arab region, running water is now available to a majority of households. But, while water may be more easily accessible, it remains a precious and scarce commodity,” Princess Basma said at the opening session of the six-day conference.

She noted that although focusing on water and natural resource conservation is key to strengthening sustainable development, so too is empowering women to initiate conservation efforts within their local communities, families and households.

“By enhancing their roles and participation in conservation approaches, women are empowered and recognised as problem solvers, financial managers and role models for their households, families and communities,” said Princess Basma.

Highlighting that responsibility for protecting the planet and its fragile environment rests with every individual, the Princess noted that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Earth Charter Initiative, a worldwide call for shared responsibility for the planet’s environment.

Around 120 scientists and decision makers from 25 European and Mediterranean countries are taking part in the conference, which also includes the fourth Mediterranean Dialogue on Integrated Water Management workshop on water policy indicators and benchmarking.

Mohammad Shatanawi, UNESCO-EOLSS Chair in Wadi Hydrology and a professor at the University of Jordan, noted that water, gender, climate change and food security are currently important issues on the international agenda and advocated an integrated approach to these challenges.

“We should ensure that water management doesn’t discriminate against women, children, poor people and farmers, but actively allows them to participate and benefit,” he said yesterday.

The water expert noted that water scarcity in the region is a problem that requires joint efforts, highlighting that within 20 years, per capita water access around the world will drop to half its current level.

“In Jordan, water per capita will drop from 140 cubic metres to about 90 cubic metres by the year 2030. By this time, the agriculture sector will be most affected because its share of water will be reduced and the quality of irrigation water will be lower,” Shatanawi said.

He warned that this situation will have a negative impact on water and food security, requiring increased water productivity and efficiency.

Jordan, which is considered the world’s fourth water poorest country, suffers an annual water deficit of 500 million cubic metres. According to official figures, 91 per cent of Jordan’s total area of 97,000 square kilometres is arid land with an annual rainfall average of 50-200 millimetres (mm), while 2.9 per cent is categorised as semi-arid with an annual rainfall average of 400-580mm.