At Just a Drop, we know that the travel and tourism industry can be a force for good. The industry is a catalyst for developing destinations, work opportunities and conservation efforts. It’s a social industry that thrives on building connections to people and cultures, even across the most remote places on the planet. But as a sector, it also faces challenges. Greenwashing is abundant, and rather than cultivating genuinely progressive and relevant programmes that benefit the future of our planet, companies often miss the mark with falsely ‘sustainable’ initiatives.
Sustainability is a real buzz word, but for travel and tourism to be legitimately considered a sustainable industry, and ultimately a force for good, the focus should be on collaboration and harnessing the strength and expertise of different organisations, so the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Just a Drop works with companies to help them reinvest in sustainably sound projects that contribute to the triple bottom line and therefore have a sustainable impact themselves. Since we started back in 1998, we’ve reached over 1.9 million people with safe water and sanitation, largely down to the generous support of the global travel and hospitality industries. It’s not about just pumping donation into our work; it’s about creating genuinely powerful and relevant business programmes from which we can reinvest profit into sustainable programmes.
For example, in 2022, we launched a sustainability initiative with one of the world’s leading hotel brands, PPHE Hotel Group. Through the initiative, guests staying at any of the PPHE brands for a minimum of two nights are asked to help the brand reduce the amount of water, power and detergent that is used during their stay. For every night a guest partakes in the programme, PPHE Hotel Group also makes a donation to Just a Drop, which is reinvested into multiple sustainable projects across the world. By choosing not to have any housekeeping services, guests play their part in making a difference to the local environment, as well as having a more global societal impact through supporting Just a Drop’s work. It’s a programme that is measured and reported on to ensure maximum effect and transparency.
Other CSR initiatives with Radisson Hotel Group, Silver Travel Advisor, Vertical Travel Group and Newmarket Holidays, to name just a few, ensure that tourism can thrive and be a force for good – protecting both the environment and local populations.
“Greenwashing is abundant, and rather than cultivating genuinely progressive and relevant programmes that benefit the future of our planet, companies often miss the mark with falsely ‘sustainable’ initiatives”
At the moment, we are conducting a number of projects in Zambia. Aside from being home to tourism hotspots such as Victoria Falls and the wild Zambezi River, Zambia plays a large part in the global safari tourism market; a market worth an estimated $21.3 billion . Zambia’s national parks are home to all of Africa’s Big Five, including lions, rhinos and elephants. They draw in millions of tourists each year looking to experience a bucket-list safari and a close-up encounter with a dangerous wild animal – all whilst helping to drive income generation within the country.
Tourism companies have excelled in developing more responsible approaches to animal tourism and prevention of overpopulating these parks. Indeed, many have now banned elephant riding and similar exploitative practices. But one aspect that is often disregarded is conflict between local populations and the very wildlife that the tourists flock to the country to see. In Zambia, over 6.4 million people (35% of the population) do not have access to safe water. In the area surrounding South Luangwa National Park, the Luangwa Valley is arid and remote, with people living there experiencing true poverty exacerbated by the lack of safe water.
Rainfall in Zambia has declined significantly over the last 30 years. This not only means that communities living in these areas face long and dangerous walks multiple times a day to collect water, but it has also led to large populations of elephants descending out of the national park in search of food and water. Both the communities and the elephants are forced to share the water in the Msandile River, leading to dangerous encounters between the two groups and forcing them to clash; the elephants have been known to chase and seriously injure the community members. And with dwindling plant growth due to climate change, elephants often raid people’s fields and destroy the communities’ homes and livelihoods.
To add to this, the water in the Msandile River is extremely dirty, and the community members face constant illnesses from drinking its dirty water. This in turn prevents them from working or studying, causing a ripple effect as they lack opportunities to support themselves. The barriers to education also prevent the community from learning about conservation and the benefits that wildlife tourism can bring to the area. Sadly, this ongoing human-wildlife conflict means that communities often resort to setting traps to kill the elephants as this is seen as the only way to protect themselves, resulting in reduced elephant numbers to the detriment of conservation and tourism.
“Empowering communities to lift themselves out of poverty not only unlocks potential, it changes everything – it improves health, education and women’s rights, community development, economic growth and brighter futures”
Just a Drop works with travel and tourism companies to change these situations. We are helping the communities surrounding the national park to access water close to their homes, reducing the need for them to share water sources with the elephants and therefore limiting conflict – all whilst ensuring that travel and tourism companies have the opportunity to support relevant and tangible projects supported by sustainable initiatives. We consider the drilling methods that are right for the community and area, using a rotary mud drill which has a light ecological footprint and is appropriate to the location which is an area of high biodiversity and conservation importance.
In many of the countries we work in, the issues that the communities face are largely brought on by the impacts of climate change which has caused unprecedented and extreme weather such as droughts and general disruption to average weather patterns. Our solutions combat this, supporting 12 out of 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals. We’re also carbon neutral as an organisation, and have pledged to become net zero by reducing our carbon output each year.
Once communities such as those in Zambia can access safe water, this springboards into social change. For example, with access to safe water, communities no longer need to drink dirty water, and so are healthier; girls have access to an education as they are no longer walking to collect water twice a day, and they can also remain in school during their periods as they have access to water to stay clean. We complement these social elements with specific programmes to help further development. Examples of this include our menstrual hygiene programme which teaches students and communities how to make their own sanitary pads out of locally sourced materials, our food security programmes which help to further alleviate poverty, and our income generation loans which enable women to support their families financially.
Our work in Zambia is just one example of how tourism can be a force of good through Just a Drop’s projects. In Kenya, our work largely supports communities facing abject poverty and who are enduring the longest drought the country has experienced for over 40 years on the bordering areas of Tsavo National Park. In Cambodia, we are supporting communities in the surrounding areas of Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, with safe water and sanitation. Meanwhile in Uganda, reducing interaction between local populations and gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest through the provision of safe water outside the park, is supporting the conservation of these endangered species in an environment that has previously been highly volatile between the two groups.
Empowering communities to lift themselves out of poverty not only unlocks potential, it changes everything – it improves health, education and women’s rights, community development, economic growth and brighter futures. It also supports local conservation efforts, local environments and jobs, and protects the resources and cultures that continually drive tourists to travel.
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