news News

1 in 3 people globally do not have access to safe drinking water
by WHO, UNICEF, WaterAid, agencies
11:46am 7th Jul, 2019
July 2019
Action needed: Time is running out for global water ambitions, by Sarina Prabasi (WaterAid)
Billions of people still live and die in water and sanitation poverty - a direct result of decisions taken, or not taken, by those in power.
The stats are as awful as they are endless; 785 million people don't have clean water close to home, 2.3 billion people don't have a toilet and, in the least developed countries, over 70% do not have access to basic handwashing facilities with soap and water.
Next week, the UN meets in New York to review progress against reducing inequality by 2030. The mood cannot be self-congratulatory. By almost every measure we will miss the targets agreed to by leaders in 2015. It is the lack of commitment to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) that is holding that ambition back.
Access to water, sanitation and hygiene underpins the entire development agenda. It stretches across health, nutrition, education and equality, as a fundamental building block to a prosperous future. Without these three essentials, an individual cannot thrive.
Recent figures from WHO and Unicef do point to signs of progress. 2.1 billion people gained access to at least a basic toilet since 2000, and between 2015 and 2017 the number of people without access to clean water fell from 1 in 9, to 1 in 10.
But it is hard to fathom how we will reach the hundreds of millions of people who still lack access by 2030. Not only is progress far too slow, but the figures mask the fact that many of the positive increases have been disproportionally at the upper ends of society. The gap between the richest and poorest in many countries is widening, leaving the most marginalized even further behind.
It is those who are already disadvantaged in society who are the most likely to lack access to WASH, which deepens the inequality they face.
Women and girls often fare the worst. When water is scarce, it's nearly always women who face the hardship of walking long distances to collect water and miss educational and economic opportunities. If all of the time that women and girls spend collecting water each day were added together, it would come to 200 million hours. Time not spent in school or at work.
And when they do attend school, it is estimated that 335 million girls go to a school without water and soap available for washing their hands when changing sanitary products. Schools without reliable water, sanitation and hygiene facilities can have a devastating impact on a child's learning.
This is not an insurmountable problem. Those furthest behind have the most to gain if WASH is prioritized, both by country governments and in overseas development aid. What is problematic is the lack of political will and financing for services that are a basic human right.
This crisis demands a significant increase in international aid from high income countries, but also a transformation in how money is raised and distributed in developing countries to ensure it is invested in essential services for the people who need it the most.
To maintain the status quo is unacceptable. We have until 2030 to turn things around. Failure to do so will stall global development and ensure the sustainable development goals remain an elusive and unobtainable pipe dream.
* Sarina Prabasi is chief executive officer of WaterAid America.
June 2019
1 in 3 people globally do not have access to safe drinking water, reports the World Health Organization and UNICEF
Billions of people around the world are continuing to suffer from poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene, according to a new report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities.
The Joint Monitoring Programme report, Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2000-2017: Special focus on inequalities finds that, while significant progress has been made toward achieving universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene, there are huge gaps in the quality of services provided.
Mere access is not enough. If the water isn't clean, isn't safe to drink or is far away, and if toilet access is unsafe or limited, then we're not delivering for the world's children, said Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF.
Children and their families in poor and rural communities are most at risk of being left behind. Governments must invest in their communities if we are going to bridge these economic and geographic divides and deliver this essential human right.
The report reveals that 1.8 billion people have gained access to basic drinking water services since 2000, but there are vast inequalities in the accessibility, availability and quality of these services. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people (785 million) still lack basic services, including the 144 million who drink untreated surface water.
The data shows that 8 in 10 people living in rural areas lacked access to these services and in one in four countries with estimates for different wealth groups, coverage of basic services among the richest was at least twice as high as among the poorest.
'Countries must double their efforts on sanitation or we will not reach universal access by 2030', said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
'If countries fail to step up efforts on sanitation, safe water and hygiene, we will continue to live with diseases that should have been long ago consigned to the history books: diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and neglected tropical diseases including trachoma, intestinal worms and schistosomiasis.
Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways. It is an essential foundation for good health'.
The report also says that 2.1 billion people have gained access to basic sanitation services since 2000 but in many parts of the world the wastes produced are not safely managed. It also reveals that 2 billion people still lack basic sanitation, among whom 7 out of 10 live in rural areas and one third live in the Least Developed Countries.
Since 2000, the proportion of the population practicing open defecation has been halved, from 21 per cent to 9 per cent, and 23 countries have achieved near elimination, meaning less than 1 per cent of the population is practicing open defecation. Yet, 673 million people still practice open defecation, and they are increasingly concentrated in 'high burden' countries.
Worse, in 39 countries, the number of people practicing open defecation actually increased, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa where many countries have experienced strong population growth over this period.
Finally, the report highlights new data showing 3 billion people lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water at home in 2017. It also shows that nearly three quarters of the population of the Least Developed Countries did not have basic handwashing facilities. Every year, 297 000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhea linked to inadequate WASH.
Poor sanitation and contaminated water are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.
'Closing inequality gaps in the accessibility, quality and availability of water, sanitation and hygiene should be at the heart of government funding and planning strategies. To backtrack on investment plans for universal coverage is to undermine decades worth of progress at the expense of coming generations', said Kelly Ann Naylor.
Mar. 2019
Safe drinking water, sanitation, are basic human rights - UN Water Development report
Water use has been increasing worldwide by about 1% per year since the 1980s, driven by a combination of population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns. Global water demand is expected to continue increasing at a similar rate until 2050, accounting for an increase of 20 to 30% above the current level of water use, mainly due to rising demand in the industrial and domestic sectors.
Over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. Stress levels will continue to increase as demand for water grows and the effects of climate change intensify.
The United Nations World Water Development Report, Leaving no one behind, launched 19 March 2019 during the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and in conjunction to the World Water Day, demonstrates how improvements in water resources management and access to water supply and sanitation services are essential to addressing various social and economic inequities, such that 'no one is left behind' when it comes to enjoying the multiple benefits and opportunities that water provides.
Safe drinking water and sanitation are recognized as basic human rights, as they are indispensable to sustaining healthy livelihoods and fundamental in maintaining the dignity of all human beings.
International human rights law obliges states to work towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need.
Fulfilment of the human rights to water and sanitation requires that the services be available, physically accessible, equitably affordable, safe and culturally acceptable.
'Leaving no one behind' is at the heart of the commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to allow all people in all countries to benefit from socio-economic development and to achieve the full realization of human rights.
The report underscores that exclusion, discrimination, poverty and inequalities are among the main obstacles to achieving the water-related goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
While the wealthy generally receive high levels of service at low prices, the poor often pay a much higher price for services of similar, or lesser quality.
'It is crazy that often in slum areas, people have to pay more for a volume of water than people living it better off neighbourhoods', Stefan Uhlenbrook, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme coordinator.
Rapid urbanization means slums will continue to develop, excluding those who live there from the benefits of having an address, or water and sanitation networks, leaving them reliant on costly alternatives.
He pointed out that slum-dwellers pay up to 10-20 per cent more for not having piped in access to water and sanitation so depend on water vendors, kiosks and other things.
Equal access to water for agricultural production, even if only for supplemental watering of crops, can make the difference between farming as a mere means of survival and farming as a reliable source of income, according to the report.
Three-quarters of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas flagged Mr. Uhlenbrook, adding that the vast majority are smallholder family farmers, who, while constituting the backbone of national food chains, often suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition.
The report also highlights the barriers that refugees and internally-displaced people often face in accessing water supply and sanitation services.
By the end of the 2017, conflict, persecution, or human rights violations forcibly displaced an unprecedented 68.5 million from their homes. And sudden-onset disasters displaced another 18.8 million.
Mass displacement places strain upon natural resources and water-related services at transition and destination points for both existing populations and new arrivals, creating potential inequalities and a source of conflicts among them.
The report offers recommendations on how to overcome exclusion and inequality in the access water and sanitation. While prioritizing those most in need, the report maintains that international human rights law obliges States to impartially work for all to have access to water resources while shining a spotlight on accountability, transparency and justice as good governance features.
Dec. 2018
Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Founder of the Blue Planet Project: Nobel Dialogue Stockholm, Sweden - December 2018
The United Nations calls water scarcity the scourge of the Earth. Every day, 2 billion people are forced to drink contaminated water and every two minutes a child under five dies of waterborne disease. If we do not change our ways, by 2030, five billion people could suffer serious water shortages.
In 2010, the people of the world took an evolutionary step forward when the United Nations recognized water and sanitation as fundamental human rights. That day, we collectively declared that it is not acceptable for someone to die or watch their child die because they cannot afford to buy clean water. Most importantly, we recognized that access to water and sanitation is an issue of justice, not charity.
Now, nearly four dozen countries have amended their Constitution or written new laws to recognize the right to water. And a number of the most marginalized communities on Earth have used the courts and the UN resolution to force their governments to recognize this fundamental, life-giving right.
As we move forward to address the twin water crises - one ecological and one human - we must do so based on a set of shared values.
While the ecological crisis impacts all of us, it impacts the poor differently. And not just in the Global South, water cut-offs to the poor are now common in some wealthy countries.
To truly guarantee the right to water, we must protect it as a public trust and a commons, not a commodity to be put on the open market for sale like oil and gas. And we must challenge the current power structures and institutions that support unequal access to the planet's dwindling water supplies.
Our goal must be clean, affordable, accessible, public water for all everywhere. But it will be impossible to realize the right to water if we continue to pollute, plunder, divert, over-extract and mismanage the planet's limited water sources.
Make no mistake; while climate change negatively impacts water, our abuse of water and the destruction of local hydrologic cycles is a major contributor to climate chaos.
The good news is the protection and restoration of watersheds is a major part of the climate solution. Therefore, we must stop seeing water as a resource for our pleasure and profit and understand it is the key element in living ecosystems that give us all life.
Water has rights outside of its usefulness to humans. Water belongs to the Earth and other living beings and requires new Earth-centred laws of governance.
Finally, we will never realize the human right to water as long as water is a source of conflict, violence and even war. Rather - and here is the miracle - water has been and can be again a source of peace if we can understand its lesson.
Just as groundwater and springs and rivers and lakes are all interconnected and interdependent, so too, are humans. If we truly listen, water could become nature's gift to teach us to live more lightly on mother Earth and in peace and harmony with one another.
* Global Water Institute - Future Water Insecurity (2013:16pp):
Mar. 2018
They are invisible: 2018 Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Barometer - Inventory of access to a vital resource. Report from Solidarites International
Even today, around 2.6 million men, women and especially children continue to die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water and an unsanitary environment.
This horrific figure is due to a little-known fact: in 2018, one third of the world's population is still drinking water that can endanger their health. 2.6 billion people still lack adequate sanitation facilities.
As humanitarian workers, fighting this deadly scourge and its undeserved, atrocious consequences is our daily combat, both in the midst of severe humanitarian crises and at the national and international level, so that the voices of the people we assist can be heard. On a wider scale, our goal is to defend and uphold the cause of hundreds of millions of people whose most fundamental rights are not respected: families afflicted by war, people living in slums, citizens of failed or failing States, farmers and livestock breeders affected by drought, minorities,etc. More often than not, they are totally off the radar screen, ignored by politicians and the media. They are invisible.
Every year, on the pages of our Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Barometer, we seek to portray the realities of these men, women and children: those who are threatened by cholera in the DRC or Haiti; those who are asserting their right to water in Dhaka; those living in Yemen where water was already scarce before the war; Syrians, Rohingyas, or those living in the Sahel... All those men, women and children whose lives, health and hope for the future are under threat because they do not have access to drinking water and sanitation.
With the assistance of experts from various backgrounds - politicians, humanitarian workers, doctors, academics - this 4th issue of the Barometer examines the current situation of this vital, shared resource, analyzes the causes and consequences of drinking water shortages, highlights the actions being taken to achieve universal access to water and sanitation, evaluates progress made by world nations, condemns the lack of political will and funding, and pinpoints inconsistencies. It also focuses on a series of proposed solutions, from a local to a global level, so that the forgotten cause of drinking water access will no longer be invisible to the general public, and that appropriate decisions will finally be taken.
Without major political and financial commitments from world nations, without fierce determination from field workers, access to drinking water will not only continue to be a humanitarian emergency, it will also fast become an ever more tangible threat to the whole of humanity.
* Alexandre Giraud is Managing Director of Solidarites International

Next (more recent) news item
Next (older) news item