Water is recognised as a “basic human right” needed to for survival. It is estimated that there is approximately 1.4 billion km3 of water on this plant. Of this total volume, only 2.5 percent (or 35 million km3) is fresh water. So for a population of 6 billion people, we only have 2.5% available for use – and this use includes industrial, domestic and agricultural usage. Agricultural usage accounts for 80% of the global consumption.
The Human Development Report presents this concept perfectly: if roughly 98% of our planet is comprised of saltwater. If we theoretically put this water into a bucket, only a teaspoon of this body of water would be drinkable. 6 billion people – 1 teaspoon.
Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) aims to improve Environmental Sustainability. Target 7c of the MDGs addresses the need to: half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. How do we begin to define “basic”? That’s a relative concept – and one that varies from region to region of the globe.
When we look at the world and the distribution of water per region, the inequalities in its distribution become apparent. Within the next 25 years, it is estimated that two-thirds of the global population is expected to be living in water-stressed conditions. But how does one define “water-stressed”? Simply put: water-stress is a condition whereby the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period (or when poor water quality restricts its usage). Furthermore, water-stress can have the effect of deteriorating the availability of fresh water resources in terms of its quantity and quality.
The UN reports that the world is on track to meet the drinking water target, though much remains to be done in some regions. More effort is needed to bring drinking water to rural households and the availability of safe water supply remains a challenge in many parts of the world.
One of the critical factors to remember is that the provision of water should not be in isolation of the provision of sanitation. In fact these two factors go hand-in-hand along with education awareness around the practices that govern safe water usage. Studies have shown (as well as WHO Reports) that in areas/regions of the world where the provision of sanitation, provision of water and the inclusion of awareness or education programmes around safe practices involving water and sanitation, has the effect of reducing the spread of waterborne diseases by as much as 65%.
By 2020, it is estimated that there will be a 40% increase in water use globally. UNEP estimates the cost of bringing water to poor people to be $30 billion. UNICEF and WHO estimate that on a global level, 884 million people do not have access to safe drinking water supplies. This means every 1 in 8 people is potentially using unsafe, contaminated water sources. 2.6 billion people do not have access to sanitation – this is roughly two fifths of our world’s population. In addition to that, 1.4 million children (under the age of 5) die every year from diarrhoea, which is a preventable disease. The root cause of this – unsafe drinking water sources. Now, if 1.4 million children die every year, mathematically this is roughly 4000 children per day – or one child every 20 seconds. Diarrhoea, as a disease globally, is responsible for more deaths than AIDS, malaria or measles combined. UNDP reports that at any one time, half of all hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people who are suffering from diarrhoea.
As shocking as the statistics are, much progress has been made. Many organizations, research facilities, tertiary institutions and programmes are currently exploring these issues in an attempt to highlight and find feasible solutions, not only on a regional basis but on a global level. Though each region of the globe faces a host of specific socio-economic challenges, the root problems are usually generic. Humans are guided by rational thought processes therefore more often than not decisions that are made in light of a specific set of problems facing one particular individual will yield a set of generic, if not similar results.
Addressing the water crisis a collective effort – nation by nation, region by region. Water is life – and the suffering of any human being is one that has far-reaching implications on our society, as a whole.