By Ioasia Radvan

Think about what your life would be like without access to clean water. 

We’re facing a global water crisis. Water is a human right. Yet every minute a newborn dies from infection caused by lack of safe water and an unclean environment. 

1 in 10 people worldwide do not have access to clean water (WHO, 2019).

Sustainable Development Goal target 6.1 calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030. Without a thorough understanding of water’s true value, and a plan to address the many complex challenges faced by so many as a result of a lack of access to safe water, we will be unable to secure this critical resource. 

The value of water is varied. It plays a part in almost every aspect of life: households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the environment. It’s value is immense. But a lack of access to clean water has catastrophic impacts on the livelihoods of so many. 

Globally, at least 2 billion people use drinking water contaminated with faeces (WHO, 2019). 

This contaminated water transmits diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Lack of adequate water and sanitation services exposes individuals to preventable health risks. Handwashing may not be a priority in places where water is scarce. This increases the likelihood of contracting diarrhoea and other diseases. The deaths of 297,000 children under 5 years could be avoided each year if these risk factors were addressed. 

Every $1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of $4 in increased productivity (WHO, 2012).

Improved water and sanitation boosts economic growth and contributes to poverty reduction. 206 million people have access to limited water services requiring a round trip of more than 30 minutes. Making safe water more accessible means that people can be productive in other ways. Safer water also reduces the likelihood of contracting debilitating diseases and enables people to remain economically productive. Children are at an increased risk of water-related diseases. Access to safe water results in better health and thus better school attendance. This in turn has positive long-term impacts on the lives of children globally. 

By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas (WHO, 2019).

Water availability will become more unreliable with increased climate variability. This will exasperate the situation in water-stressed regions.  Water related disasters will become more frequent and relentless. Food security, human health, urban and rural settlements, energy production, industrial development, economic growth, and thriving ecosystems are all water-dependent and thus vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This puts obtaining SDG 6 and most of the others at risk. We must adapt to climate change to alleviate this crisis. 

If everyone, everywhere had clean water, the number of diarrhoeal deaths would be cut by a third (Tropical Medicine and International Health, 2014). 

Slowly, progress is being made. It’s not possible to tackle the water crisis without decent toilets and good hygiene. Without decent toilets, water sources can become contaminated. And without clean water, we can’t have good hygiene practices that stop the spread of disease. Since 2000, 2.1 billion people have gained access to decent toilets. The World Bank says promoting good hygiene is one of the most cost effective health interventions (Disease Control Priorities, 2016). As the international authority on public health and water quality, WHO leads global efforts to prevent transmission of waterborne disease, advising governments on the development of health-based targets and regulations.

There’s nothing more essential to life on earth than water. We must recognise the importance of addressing the global water crisis. Access to clean water changes everything; it’s a stepping-stone to development.

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