The earth has enough water to meet the needs of everyone. However, water is unequally distributed; some countries enjoy abundant freshwater resources, while others are faced with the water stress and/or rare access to water that impedes their development. If current trends continue, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water scarcity by 2025. The water crisis may very well thwart efforts to combat poverty and foster sustainable development from a social, economic and environmental perspective.
Apart from scarce water due to natural environmental conditions or geographic location, several countries are faced with economic challenges regarding access to water; while the resource may be abundant, the countries’ infrastructures are insufficient in providing access to local populations. The water crisis affects 748 million people worldwide as they do not have access to clean drinking water. Moreover, 2.5 billion people live without access to adequate sanitation infrastructures, which poses an additional risk for their health and development as well as for the local water quality and environment. Contaminated water is the source of numerous illnesses, which can be deadly. Inadequate access to clean water and sanitation—and a lack of hygiene—kills 3.5 million people each year. Children, who are particularly vulnerable, are the primary victims of this scourge: every minute, a child dies from water-borne illness.
Women are also disproportionately affected by a lack of access to clean water. As they have been traditionally responsible for collecting water, they must travel long distances to get to water access points. Women and girls must often travel up to 6 hours a day to collect water. This prevents them from investing any time in productive or educational activities. Their financial independence is significantly limited, which reinforces the inequality between men and women—a situation that is deeply rooted in the mores and cultures of local communities. Because of their specific needs regarding hygiene, the lack of access to sanitation affects women’s dignity as well as puts their health and safety at risk.
The water crisis also has severe repercussions on food safety. The lack of access to water greatly limits the productivity of populations, which inevitably impacts the nutrition rural families get. In addition, their revenues and lifestyles are often threatened, thereby limiting their chances of escaping poverty. The lack of access to water is a major hindrance to human and socio-economic development. Universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation can drastically reduce diarrhoeal diseases and, in fact, save over $11.6 billion in health costs. When factoring in estimated productivity gains ($5.6 billion in additional work days per year), total generated savings in the developing world can increase to $263 billion.
For millions of people, improving access to clean drinking water and sanitation enables them to broaden their horizons. It is by far a key to eradicating poverty and ensuring the sustainable development of communities worldwide.