Rural woman in Bangladesh. UN Photo / Regina Merkova

Rural woman in Bangladesh. UN Photo / Regina Merkova

Clean water is essential for maintaining human life and is of paramount importance for human health. Fortunately, there is enough fresh water on the planet for each of its inhabitants. However, a weak economy and lack of infrastructure lead to the fact that millions of people, mostly children, die from diseases associated with a lack of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

More than 40 percent of the world's population suffers from water shortages and this figure is constantly growing. According to experts, access to clean water is deprived of 783 million inhabitants of the planet and more than 1.7 billion people living in river basins need additional sources of fresh water.

In addition to the vital functions, having access to clean drinking water has a number of other important advantages necessary for a decent life and prosperity. These include security, privacy and basic convenience.

UN and water:

One of the most important areas of UN activity for a long time is overcoming of global crisis caused by the underdeveloped water supply system, which is so necessary for satisfying basic human needs. The problem is also exacerbated by increasing demand for water, both for domestic use and for commercial and agricultural activities.

The United Nations Conference on Water Resources (1977), the International Decade for Drinking Water and Sanitation (1981-1990), the International Conference on Water and the Environment (1992), and the World Summit "Planet Earth" (1992) were dedicated to water issues. As a result of the work, carried out during the Decade, 1.3 billion of people in developing countries gained access to clean drinking water.

The role of water resources:

To increase public awareness about of how important water is to life, the General Assembly proclaimed the year 2003 the International Year of Freshwater. At the same year, the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination established a system-wide mechanism called “UN-Water”, which covers all issues related to fresh water and sanitation.

In order to further strengthen of global actions to achieve the Millennium Development Goals related to water, The General Assembly proclaimed the period 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”. The decade started on March 22, 2005 and since then this day has been annually celebrated as World Water Resources Day.

Right to water:

An important milestone in modern history is the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation. According to the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2010, everyone has the right to access to sufficient water for personal and daily living needs (from 50 to 100 liters per day per person). At the same time, water should be safe, acceptable in quality and price (the cost of water should not exceed three percent of household income), as well as physically accessible (the water source should be within 1000 meters from the house and no more than 30 minutes should be spent for water picking up.
Particular attention in the activity of the UN system is maintenance of water sources with limited and dissected fresh water reserves. The burden on them is constantly increasing due to population growth, environmental pollution and the needs of agriculture and industry.

MDG early achievement

The Millennium Development Goals provided for halving by 2015 the proportion of the population that does not have constant access to reliable water sources. This task was completed five years ahead of schedule in 2010.

According to UNICEF, currently 91 percent of the world's population has the access to improved drinking water sources.

Since 1990, 2.6 billion people have gained access to such sources, including 42 percent of the population of least developed countries.

Improved drinking water sources are used by 96 percent of the urban population and 84 percent of the rural population. However, as of the year 2015, the number of people on the planet who are still deprived of access to quality drinking water is 663 million. 80 percent of them live in rural areas.

SDGs and water

In the Sustainable Development Agenda, the UN has identified access to water and sanitation as a separate Goal number 6. Goal 6 is inextricably linked with questions of health, food security and climate change, as well as disaster resilience and ecosystem management.

Among the tasks need to be achieved to achieve Goal 6 are improving water quality, increasing the efficiency of water resources and protecting water-related ecosystems, such as mountains, forests, swamps, rivers, lakes.

Achieving this Goal involves expanding international cooperation and supporting the strengthening of the capacity of developing countries to implement activities and programs related to water supply and sanitation. These activities include the collection and desalination of water, improving the efficiency of water use and wastewater cleaning, as well as the use of recycling water and water re-use technologies.

Water and safety

In 2011, the UN Security Council recognized that climate change has a great risk of serious security implications, stressing that the aquatic environment, in this regard, is most vulnerable thing.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a speech to the historic Security Council in the year 2011 said: “Water and food shortages threaten hundreds of millions of people around the world. This undermines the very foundations of stability at the local, national and global levels. There is increasing competition between communities and countries for gaining access to scarce resources, primarily water, which exacerbates long-standing security problems and creates new ones”.

The 2013 UN-Water analytical note entitled “Water Security and the Global Water Agenda” states that water in itself is a security risk, and water scarcity can create tensions and regional conflicts. It also notes that reliable water supply contributes to maintaining peace and security in the regions for the long term.

Water supply, sanitation and hygiene:

Polluted water and lack of basic sanitation undermine efforts to eradicate poverty and disease in the world's poorest countries. At present, 2.4 billion people around the world still do not have access to modern sanitation systems, which allow people to avoid contact with excrements.

According to monitoring indicators, carried out jointly by WHO and UNICEF, access to safe water and sanitation, at least 1.8 billion people on the planet are forced to drink water polluted by feces. An even greater number of people receive drinking water through systems that do not meet basic sanitation standards.

Key facts about sanitation:

  1. every third inhabitant of the planet lives in unsanitary conditions;

  2. every seventh - still practices “open defecation”;

  3. 75 percent of the practice of “open defecation” is in five countries, which include India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Pakistan;

  4. Since 1990, 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation.

Contaminated water and child mortality:

Contaminated water and unsanitary conditions are major factors in child mortality in developing countries. Poor water supply and the presence of infectious pathogens in the water, as well as the lack of basic hygiene and sanitation, lead to diarrhea to children. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million children under 5 years of age die from this disease in the poorest regions.

Sanitation improvement

The negative impact of inadequate water supply systems and unsanitary conditions on the development process is obvious. Ways to solve these problems are well known and economically viable. As practice has shown, every dollar invested in improving sanitation brings $ 9 profit. Most of all, children living in poverty and disadvantaged communities need better water and sanitation.