Time to end Goa’s tourism water woes

By Rachel Noble – Head of Policy and Research

Posted: Mar 13, 2012

Last month I travelled to Goa to spend time with Tourism Concern’s local partner, the Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT). Under our Water Equity in Tourism campaign (WET), we partnered with CRT to undertake research into the impact of tourism development on water quality and access for local people. The results, as were the findings from my trip, are damning.

The tiny southern Indian state of Goa has been a popular destination for European tourists since the hippy trials of the 1960s. However, the onslaught of mass tourism over the last 30 years is having huge social and environmental impacts. In particular, the pollution and depletion of Goa’s rivers and groundwater caused in part by the poorly regulated growth of hotels, resorts and second homes, are causing increasing numbers of local communities too struggle to meet their daily water needs. Government policies favouring large-scale resorts and up-market developments means that small-scale tourism entrepreneurs, such as of the owners of guesthouses and beach ‘shack’ restaurants, are also losing out.

Most Goan households traditionally access water via a well – either their own or one shared by the community. In major tourist areas, as well water quantity and quality is being depleted, households are being forced to depend upon piped government supply. However, this supply is irregular, erratic and poor quality. Water pressure is weak because of over-demand, plus the large hotels attach large, wide pipes to the mains, which siphon off the main flow of the water. Many dig their own wells and boreholes, which further deplete groundwater, or purchase water from private tankers. Water tankers are big business in Goa, but this privatization of water is apparently unregulated.

In the popular resort of Calangute, households only receive piped water every other day for a couple of hours. Donna, one elderly resident, said:  “All these hotels get a good supply of water. They can afford to buy from the tankers. There are no regulations for these. I don’t know where this water comes from. We only get water every second day from the public supply and only for a couple of hours. This is hardly enough. Luckily I’m still OK as I have my well and the water is still OK. But the water level is depleting.”

A female guesthouse owner added: “The wells here have been contaminated for 10 years. The contamination has been partly caused by soak pits from tourism. Dirty water leaches into the ground. The soak pits are illegal. In the hot dry season – March, April, May – we get water for 20-30 minutes a day. The rest is taken and put in pools. Many people depend on tankers.”

There is a strong sense of injustice amongst local communities and small-scale tourism entrepreneurs regarding inequitable water access between themselves and large hotels.

“Local people sometimes feel angry, but they recognise the benefits that tourism can bring. But it is we ordinary people who are suffering. We are drinking this water, they are not. Some can afford to buy water, some cannot,” said the guesthouse owner.

I also visited Colva Creek, directly behind another tourist hotspot, Colva Beach. A number of hotels and restaurants have recently had their wrists slapped for dumping waste and sewage directly into the creek’s waters. However, despite being ordered to clean up their acts by the State Pollution Control Board, the stench of sewage is immediate. Smouldering, stinking rubbish is strewn across the banks and into the water.

Goa’s tourism-water woes are being caused by a range of factors, including lack of planning, flouting and weak enforcement of regulations, and lack of political will to rectify the problems. There is a widespread perception that many of Goa’s politicians are “hand in glove” with the big tourism developers, and are profiting nicely from the on-going tourism boom, particularly the growing market in luxury holiday apartments. Hotels and resorts are also failing to properly treat sewage and ensure that their water consumption is not infringing local communities’ right to access water for personal, domestic and essential livelihood needs. However, such weak water and tourism governance, and the short-term, get rich quick attitudes of some of those in power, are threatening to ruin Goa as a tourism destination, and undermine the livelihoods and quality of life for local people.

Tourism Concern is supporting the calls of local people for this water abuse and inequity to end. We will be working with CRT in the coming months to lobby the Government of Goa to uphold and protect the water rights of local communities.