Women from a camp for internally displaced people walking to fill their bottles from a water bladder. Uusgure village, Puntland, Somalia.
Photo: ©FAO/Karel Prinsloo

Billions of people are still without safe water

Access to water and sanitation is an internationally recognised human right. Yet, many people lack even the most basic of services. If the pressure on global water resources continues at current rates, the impact on Gross Domestic Product and global grain production in the next decades will be dramatic, experts warn.

On World Water Day 2019 (22 March), more than two billion people are still without access to safe drinking water, according to the latest United Nations World Water Development Report - Leaving No One Behind, published in March 2019.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right” and in 2015 the human right to sanitation was explicitly recognised as a distinct right. 

These rights oblige States to work towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritising those most in need. Five years later, Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to guarantee sustainable management of, and access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Poor access to safe drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa 

Yet, despite significant progress over the past 15 years, this goal is unreachable for much of the world’s population. In 2015, three in ten people (2.1 billion) did not have access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion people, or six in ten, had no safely managed sanitation facilities. The world is still off track in achieving this important goal.

On a global scale, half of the people who drink water from unsafe sources live in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 24 per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water, and just 28 per cent have basic sanitation facilities that are not shared with other households. Refugees and internally displaced people are particularly vulnerable, they often face severe barriers to the access to water supply and sanitation services and their numbers are higher than ever before. 
If the degradation of the natural environment and the unsustainable pressure on global water resources continue at current rates, 45 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product and 40 per cent of global grain production will be at risk by 2050, according to the UN report.

How to get on track to achieve SDG6?

The right to water, the report’s authors explain, cannot be separated from other human rights. In fact, those who are marginalised or discriminated against because of their gender, age, socio- economic status, or because of their ethnic, religious or linguistic identity, are also more likely to have limited access to proper water and sanitation. People without safe, accessible water and sanitation are likely to face multiple challenges, including poor health and living conditions, malnutrition, and lack of opportunities for education and employment.

Inclusive policies are needed to achieve SDG6, according to the authors. They are also needed to defuse conflicts between different water users. In a context of increasing demand (1 per cent yearly increase since the 1980s), the Report observes a significant rise in water-related conflicts: 94 from 2000 to 2009, 263 from 2010 to 2018.

The report demonstrates that investing in water supply and sanitation makes good economic sense. The return-on-investment is high in general and for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in particular, especially when broader benefits such as health and productivity are taken into account. The multiplier for the return-on-investment has been globally estimated at two for drinking water and 5.5 for sanitation.


More information:
World Water Day Website: https://www.worldwaterday.org/
United Nations World Water Development Report - Leaving No One Behind at the UNESCO Website:  https://en.unesco.org/water-security/wwap/wwdr

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