Water is an elementary requirement for all life on earth, which means it is also a condition for sustainable (ecological) development. A large proportion of individuals living in poverty have no access to clean water and basic sanitary conditions. Raw industrial waste and sewage contributes to contamination of water and the unsanitary environment that especially affects people living in poverty.
The lack of a reliable source of water in close proximity affects the lives of millions globally. The consequences of this are detrimental, and most adversely affect women and girls.
It impacts on their health, security, education, opportunities for income and family relationships. Women and girls are often responsible for supplying the family water, (and the water sources are frequently far and distant from the local village, requiring women and girls to spend large amounts of time walking and carrying water from distant sources). This leads to the women losing opportunities for jobs and income, and to the girls missing days at school. This adversely affects their future political, financial and social opportunities. Access to clean water and toilets in school is crucial for girls to be able to stay in school, especially in puberty.
Many women and girls also risk their personal safety when they fetch and carry water from distant places. Frequently they must walk several kilometres each day to get drinkable water. Approximately 125 million hours per day are spent on fetching water on a global basis. Having access to clean water and toilets does not only save time and energy. It can also protect women and children from potentially dangerous situations where they may be vulnerable to sexual molestation and violence.
This means that almost 900 children die each day, and 315 000 children die every year. Additionally, many more children are dying from severe malnutrition. Malnutrition stunts the natural growth process in children, and affects more than 159 million children under the age of 5 annually. For this reason alone, we are compelled to act.
More than a billion people currently live in slum areas. As cities are growing, the population meets new challenges, such as the lack of effective and functioning sanitary systems and access to clean water. Ineffective city planning, inequality and segregation between poor and wealthy compound the process of creating a sustainable society.
The competition for and the distribution of water creates sensitive political conditions between countries, societies and cultures. The UN states that conflicts over water are common. There are many conflicts like these that have been documented throughout history. It is not only the lack of or control of water that is the only reason to these conflicts – but often a contributing or a triggering factor.
The lack of water, elevated sea levels and climate change means that the amount of climate-based refugees will continue to grow. According to the UN refugee organisation (UNHCR), there will be between 250 million and one billion climate-based refugees in the world in the year 2050. Drought, flooding, hurricanes, lack of farming and severe living conditions are the reasons cited for this prognosis.