Future we want: Water for everyone

Photo by: Johannes Roesler / IUCNweb / CC BY

Who does not want a future where every single individual enjoys safe drinking water?

Catarina de Albuquerque, U.N. special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, raised this question on the eve of World Water Day.

The question is simple and a no-brainer, but there lies an underlying thought: “What is the world doing to get safe drinking water to every single individual on this planet?”

The report released by the World Health Organization and UNICEF early March says 89 percent of the world’s population is now using improved drinking water sources. Does that mean the world has met its goal of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water?

The report defines “improved” as water sources that are protected from outside contamination, such as fecal matter, by “nature of their construction.” But many of these sources are still subject to maintenance — something that warrants additional funds and attention.

Further, large disparities exist between developing nations and the least developed nations, between the rich and the poor, between people living in urban and rural areas.

The report notes that India and China, which comprises 46 percent of the population of the developing world, accounted for nearly half of the global progress made on water. And while the developing world’s access to improved water sources has increased 16 percent since 1990, sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania are lagging.

Rural inhabitants are also at a disadvantage. The report says that of the 187 million from the global population that use surface water, 94 percent are rural inhabitants — and are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. What’s more, the report notes only 19 of the 50 countries in the region are on track to meet the MDG on water.

The difference between the rich and the poor also calls for more attention. In Sierra Leone, for example, only 10 percent of the poorest quintile from the already low 35 percent of the rural population have access to improved water sources.

These figures do not ring good news for women and children. Women, according to Water.org, spend 200 million hours a day collecting water. More alarming is the fact that a child dies every 20 seconds from a water-related illness.

The world’s growing population also poses more threats and is standing in the way of getting more people access to safe drinking water. What will the world do when its population blows up to 9 billion by 2050?

On World Water Day (March 22), numerous initiatives and announcements will sure come up. For one, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce a new public-private partnership, called U.S. Water Partnership, on Thursday to seek solutions to the global water problem.

In April, meanwhile, ministers from developed and developing countries will gather in Washington, D.C., for the Sanitation and Water for All High-Level Meeting. And in June, the world’s leaders will attend the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development.

Will the world face another watered down declaration on water? It has yet to find out.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.