Challenges of Youth in Water Governance

The United Nations has estimated the population of youth between 15 and 24 year-olds worldwide of 1.2 billion in 2019 and projected to increase to 1.3 billion by 2030. This number occupies for 16 per cent of the global population. The age range of youth is defined differently between countries and organizations. Their demographic characteristics and tremendous potential determine them as future leaders of the world and transformative leaders of their communities. Youth play a vital role in water governance and sustainable development. They have certain concerns in water issues and unhesitatingly raise their voices and advocate to protect water and natural resources. They act as role models to protect natural resources, to raise awareness of the public on the issues as well as to learn and share knowledge. Moreover, young people add more value to nature such as social enterprises to promote green and local products. Their contribution to water and natural resources protection cannot be denied and they have more space to act and raise their voice compared to the past. However, different obstacles have prevented youth from fully achieving their roles in water governance. Understanding their challenges and its reasons to provide suitable supports is necessary for harnessing their energy and strength as transformative leaders in water governance.

First of all, to participate in or to lead projects and work with different stakeholders require certain knowledge, skills and capacity. However, education systems don’t provide youth-specific knowledge and skills in water governance as well as there is limited access to information on the issues, especially for rural and indigenous youth, besides the lack of local knowledge to deal with local issues. This leads to a limited understanding of the issues where they are not able to see and analyze the whole picture and to make appropriate decisions. On the other hand, communication skills are among the most challenging to work with stakeholders. Their approaches to address a problem or the use of different advocacy language may lead to misunderstanding and obstacles when working with community and policymakers. Moreover, despite having many ideas for water governance issues, limited capacity in project implementation hinders them from actualizing the ideas.

Topic on Youth and Water Governance was presented at the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.

Secondly, it’s difficult for them to get community trust and engagement because of the difference in mindset and social belief. Youth are not fully supported to lead an activity with the adult and the elderly in the community, especially female and indigenous youth. Besides, spontaneous actions in small groups without the introduction from authorities or organizations to the communities also contribute to the problem.

A field trip on Participatory Rural Appraisal with farmers to understand the livelihoods and water management in the Mekong Delta

Thirdly, youth don’t have space in policy dialogue and decision-making process due to the lack of specific guidelines/mechanism on youth participation in these processes. There are also limited platforms and channels for youth to bring their voices out. Other than that, inadequate critical thinking and the mindset that they are too small to raise the voice have limited their awareness and interest in these processes.

Fourthly, government intervention/permission on their projects is of concerns because some projects contradict with the strategies and policies of the government, e.g. to oppose a development project. In some cases, the administrative procedure for permission is complicated for individual not belong to any organization.

Fifthly, security is among the most concerns of youth in some countries because they don’t fully have the rights to speak freely on political related issues. To fight for their rights and for protecting natural resources in the community, some activists are detected as anti-government groups, face legal issues or even attacked by illegal groups.

Sixthly, some youth feel discouraged in their work in water governance. The lack of power and authorities hinder them from changing public and government mindset on sustainable development. They also face prevention from family on working on this field because of the concerns for their security, economic and well-being, especially for female youth. Besides, globalization and modernization make youth who work in with the community for water and natural resources issues feel that they are left behind in an undeveloped world.

A study on rainwater harvesting for domestic uses and implemented a pilot model for a household in a coastal province of the Mekong Delta.

Seventhly, to perform a project, there are the lacks of financial and human resources. Limited networks and like-mind people lead to difficulty in arranging human resources for their project, especially for local youth. Limited criteria in the application for funding also narrow their opportunity. Moreover, the funding is usually in the short-term, which cannot fully support them to accomplish the project’s objectives.

Eighthly, limited time budget and concern on daily income are also among the main factors that prevent youth from being active in water issues. They have certain concerns on the issues but their most priorities are education and income, which are not easy to be devoted if they are not motivated enough. This is because the low awareness on the impacts of the issues and the currents programs/activities on water governance do not meet their basic needs. Besides, the job market for youth in this field is also limited.

 Diep Ngoc Nguyen, the author, attended the welcoming ceremony for her Master Program on Water and Coastal Management at the University of Bologna in Italy . 

Last but not least, young people usually work in small sporadic groups which do not bring high impacts on the issues. However, they don’t have a lot of chance for networking with other groups of the same interests. Besides, for individual youth, after a program, they don’t have a lot of time to keep networking with other member and don’t understand each other well to have a strong bond after a program. Above all, they don’t see the common objectives and visions of a network and the benefit they can get from it.

Story written by Diep Ngoc Nguyen, Intern at Mekong Regional Water Governance Program