Millions of people, including children, die each year from diarrhoeal diseases contracted from poor water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. A lack of investment and management of freshwater supply mainly affects people in sub-Saharan Africa, and Central, Southern, and South-Eastern Asia.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 6, ‘clean water and sanitation’, aims for clean, accessible water for all in an era where an increased population has thus increased the competition for water. Member states are expected to take a stand and achieve the goal by 2030.
Scarce water and poor water quality are barriers to food security, educational opportunities, and an overall acceptable quality of life. Currently, 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater. By 2050, it is estimated that at least 1 in 4 people is likely to live in a country with chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater.
Gender inequality intertwines with access to clean water. Women and girls lose out on educational opportunities, as they are often responsible for hours-long water collection in households with water unavailability – in turn increasing the risk of long-term poverty.
Chronic shortages of water over long periods of time leads to drought, which negatively impact food production and security, worsening malnutrition in some areas. Farmers who rely on access to water to live are affected by higher crop prices and food insecurity, while children affected by malnutrition are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases in adulthood.
Today, 90 percent of the world’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water, which has improved from 76 percent between 1990 and 2015. But the UN expects that by 2025 1.8 billion people will live with water scarcity, and the global population living in poverty will increase by 100 billion.
The World Bank Group, UNICEF, and he World Health Organization estimate that correcting water supply and sanitation in 140 countries will cost $28.4 billion per year until 2030. It is, however, in a country’s own long-term economic interest to invest in water and sanitation. In sub-Saharan Africa, freshwater unavailability costs 4.3 percent of GDP, and 6.4 percent of India’s GDP, a country where open defecation is still widely practiced.
According to the UN, water use has grown more than twice the rate of the population increase in the last century. Although competition for water has grown with an increasing population, it is now a question of responsible use by those who have access and water supply and management by and for those who don’t.
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Image courtesy of gerlos via Flickr