The statistics on the safety of drinking water across the world can be alarming. One in ten people does not have clean water close to their homes, while one in four people lack a decent toilet of their own.
Access to safe drinking water is recognized as a fundamental human right, and the lack of it exposes a community to a lot of health perils, including diseases like cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, and dysentery.
Access to Safe Drinking Water in the World
Although billions of people have enjoyed access to clean water since the 1990s, there are many inequalities still in existence. A 2017 report by the World Health Organization/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme sought to get a clear picture of how access to drinking water has evolved from 1990.
It also evaluated the gaps in the data as well as the work that remains if the world is going to achieve universal access. This data includes:
- Billions of people have gotten access to drinking water, although inequalities are still evident. 2.6 billion people enjoy access to an upgraded drinking water source. This water source is one that is purposefully designed to guard against contamination. In 2015 however, 663 million people still got drinking water from unsafe sources. In 41 nations, a fifth of the population gets their drinking water from such contaminated sources.
- Vast inequalities exist in individual countries as well. Almost every nation struggling to deliver its population with safe water also has a significant gap in access between the poorest and richest. In Niger, for example, 72% of its wealthiest people have access to water, while 41% of the poorest population lack access.
- Fetching water remains a big problem, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. In many nations, the majority of the population spend less than 30 minutes fetching water, or they rely on piped water in their home. In some other regions, however, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, a lot of people spend over 30 minutes, or even over an hour, on each trip to supply water. The burden mainly falls on women and girls, who are responsible for this activity in eight to ten households that lack piped supply.
- In many parts of the globe, water is not available throughout the day, all day. Households were asked whether the water supply met their needs, or for the total hours water is available every day. The data varied widely between and within nations. In some provinces in South Africa, for example, the supply of water in 60% of households was disrupted for two days or more. Few nations enjoy continuous water supply, although, in most regions of the planet, a less than 24-hour supply is considered sufficient.
- Some sources guard against contamination, although it is not always appropriate to drink the water. To be regarded as “safe,” a source must be free of high amounts of harmful substances and pathogens. Globally, the primary health issue is fecal contamination, which is tested by the presence of bacteria like E.coli. In most countries, a water point is identified in an area free of pollution, but there are other ways of contamination. The containers used to carry and store the water can have traces of bacteria, while faulty latrines may compromise the groundwater.
- Populations spend varying amounts of money on water. The money populations spend on water and sanitation differs from country to country. The data on these statistics fails to capture the entire cost of accessing such services, including the prices of getting a household connection. It is therefore difficult to know if people think the amount of money they spend on water is affordable.
Water and Health
Poor sanitation and water contamination are significant causes of diseases like hepatitis A, dysentery, polio, cholera, and typhoid. The statistics on this include:
- About 88% of deaths caused by diarrhea illness in the world are linked to poor hygiene, unsafe water, and poor sanitation. Diarrheal diseases like cholera kill more children than measles, malaria, and AIDS combined, making it second in the leading diseases causing death in children under five.
- The pathogens that facilitate the development of cholera are mainly spread by contaminated water or food. The contamination can occur via animal or human feces. It can happen in the environment through the insufficient protection of food and drinking water sources or as a result of poor sanitation. Contamination can also occur in the home, via inadequate hygiene and unsafe water storage.
- In addition to diarrhea, numerous other diseases result from consuming unsafe drinking water. In 2017, for example, more than 220 million people required preventive treatment for schistosomiasis, which is caused by parasitic worms contracted via exposure to infested water. Schistosomiasis and other tropical diseases like Guinea worm disease can be decreased by almost 80% with safe water access, sanitation, and hygiene.
- The water consumed by hundreds of millions of people is contaminated or highly-polluted. At least 2 billion people consume water from a source contaminated with feces. 144 million people drink untreated surface water.
- Poor sanitation often exacerbates the health risks associated with unsafe drinking water. Around 20% of the urban population did not have access to appropriate sanitation in 2012, and 100 million urban dwellers practiced open defecation. The gains made in boosting access to sanitation have been more focused on cities and not rural areas.
Although water is a vital need for life, 844 million in the globe lack access to it. The World Economic Forum has recognized the water crisis as the 4th global crisis in regards to impact on society. The world water crisis can be seen in:
- The water crisis mainly affects women. In most low-income nations, women and girls have the primary responsibility for the management of household sanitation, health, and water supply. These community members bear the burden of fetching water, which can be difficult and time-consuming. The lack of sanitation and water keeps women in a poverty cycle.
- The water crisis is a health crisis, as well. Almost one million people die every year from hygiene, sanitation, and water-related illnesses, which can be reduced with better access to sanitation and safe water. A child succumbs to a water-related disease every 2 minutes.
- The water crisis also affects the development of children as well as their educational pursuits. In low-income nations, children are actively involved in collecting water, which takes away time that could be spent playing or at school.
- The water crisis also impacts on the economy. The time spent in looking for safe sanitation or in collecting water amounts to billions lost in economic opportunities. 260 billion is lost worldwide every year because of lack of water and sanitation.
Progress on Improving the Safety of Drinking Water
- Access to improved sources for drinking water has increased from 76% of the world’s population in 1990 to 91% in 2015. In 2015, most countries reported water access in more than 90% of households. This presents substantial progress since 1990 when most nations in East and South Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa were mostly below 90%. Access is lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and rates generally fall between 40% to 80% of households.
- More focus has been undertaken to improve the water sources in the urban areas when compared to rural regions. The rural access was 85% in 2015, which is a 22% increase from 1990. 97% of urban households reported improved water access, with most countries now having close to 100%.
- In 1990, 1.26 billion people in the globe lacked access to an improved water source. The statistic has almost halved by 2015. The improvement was noted despite the strong population growth witnessed in the same period. Using these statistics, about 107 million people gained access to improved water sources every year, and 290,000 people every day.
- In 1990, almost 42% of the people without access were in the Pacific and East Asia, and it reduced to 20% in 2015. Sub-Saharan had 22% of the population with poor water access in 1990, which rose to almost half the worldwide total in 2015. The number of people lacking access to water fell in all regions except Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people still locked out of safe water sources in the region has risen from 271 million in 1990 to 326 million in 2015.
- Universal access to sanitation is among the world’s primary development challenges. 29% of the world population got access to sanitation between 1990 to 2015, but the progress differed substantially by region. In this period, the population without access to upgraded sanitation has remained mainly constant, since it was 2.49 billion in 1990 and 2.39 billion in 2015. Since the population has also grown during the same period, the number of people with access has risen from 2.8 billion to almost 5 billion in 2015. Although the number of people without access has mainly remained the same, therefore, the share of the population lacking access has reduced.
- Over 90% of the people without access in 2015 lived in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific, or Asia. South Asia accounted for the region was the largest share, accounting for 40% and almost one billion without access. Sub-Saharan Africa followed it with almost 20% and East Asia and the Pacific with 22%.
- There are still significant inequalities in levels of access to upgraded sanitation. Access across North America, North Africa, Europe, and some parts of Latin America is generally over 90%, and in most situations between 99 and 100%. Between 80% to 90% of households in Latin America as well as the Caribbean have better sanitation. The progress in South Asia has been varied. Sri Lanka, for example, has gotten a 95% access rate, while Bangladesh and Pakistan have access of over 60%. India is lagging behind with under 40%.
- In 2015, 15% of the global population was still involved in open defecation, which is a reduction of almost half since 1990. Prevalence of this practice was highest in South Asia with a 36% average share. India particularly has high rates, with almost 45% still practicing open defecation. The rate was 23% in Sub-Saharan Africa, although nations like Eritrea, Chad, Sudan, and South Sudan had a prevalence of between 60-80%
The quest to offer the global population with safe drinking water is beset by problems like:
- Around 80% of urban inhabitants enjoy access to piped water while 96% access improved water sources. The bacteriological quality of the water, however, remains poor. Over 50% of urban dwellers in the developing nations are still impacted at one or another by illnesses linked to inadequate access to pathogen-free drinking water and proper sanitation.
- The health costs attributed to such waterborne diseases like worm infestations, diarrhea, and malaria make up over one-third of the income of the poor households in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- One sanitation-associated challenge with access to safe water is urban solid waste disposal. Recent estimates suggest that cities produce 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste every year. This figure is projected to reach 2.2 billion tonnes in 2025. Failure to effectively gather and dispose of solid waste can increase the proliferation of such disease-carrying vectors like insects and rodents.
- Social inequalities in urban environments play a vital role in water and sanitation-associated risks. Slums and informal settlements generally have lower access to sanitation and safe water supply than other regions of cities. Slums easily become hotbeds for the transmission of infectious diseases related to poor hygiene.
- Dense informal urban settlements present challenges for improving sanitation. Sewer systems will most likely be needed, and it is expensive to install them in densely-populated neighborhoods. Sewage infrastructure in slums is also more energy-intensive to operate when compared to planned development where infrastructure is established in advance, and gravity flow can be utilized to direct sewage downhill.
- Corruption present in the water sector is another reason that keeps some populations from accessing safe water. It will affect public contracting, such that the public gets inflated prices or they have to bribe for services. Corruption can also result in poorly-established facilities of the dumping of pollutants into water sources.
- By 2025, half of the global population will be inhabiting water-stressed regions. Water supply systems are continuously burdened due to population growth, increasing water scarcity, climate change, urbanization, and demographic changes.
- Some areas are served by informal water providers, who inflate prices, so that poor households end up paying a lot of money for water.
- Armed conflict in other areas often leads to water supply disruption. When combined with the disruption of health services, the lack of access to water and sanitation can be deadly.