A secure water world is emerging as a top human development priority in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. To this end, UN Water, the United Nations’ inter-agency coordination mechanism for all water-related issues, is marking this year’s World Water Day with the theme ‘Water and Sustainable Development’, emphasising how water is an essential asset to all aspects of our lives including livelihood, health, economy and environment. Ensuring more equitable and sustainable access to water will ensure more progressive efforts towards reducing poverty and building peace to give practical transformative effect to the Sustainable Development Goals.
UN Water defines water security as:
“The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”
Today, water insecurity remains staggeringly high, as indicated by the following statistics for 2015:
• There are around 748 million people in the world without access to safe water, which is roughly one in ten of the world’s population.
• A shocking 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, translating as one in three of the world’s population.
• Children in particular have been acutely affected, with over 500,000 children dying each year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
• Women tally up over 200 million hours across the world each day working to collect water; this is time spent away from income-generating jobs or attending school.
These figures when broken down further reveal sharp geographic, socio-cultural and economic inequalities in access to clean and safe water. The poor, marginalised and at-risk groups in least developed countries disproportionately feature as the worst affected.
Developing countries face many of the same problems over water quality and supply. The US Agency for International Development (US AID), Bureau of Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade see three core reasons for water crises:
1. Poor access to water supply.
2. Poor water resource management.
3. Poor water productivity in the agricultural sector.
Water is essential to human health and our survival. The human body can last weeks without food, but only days without water. In India, WaterAid reports on a chronic water crisis: the 2011 census showed that in rural areas just three in ten people have access to a bathroom. This has created a sanitation crisis where the country is now home to half of all the world’s malnourished and underweight children. Poor hygiene has caused illness and disease to rapidly spread amongst densely populated communities. In rural areas especially, water infrastructure falls in disrepair causing massive water wastage. Additionally, unfair distribution of water means this essential resource is tied up in the hands of those in urban areas or wealthy rural communities that can pay for services, excluding people living in slums and remote villages. WaterAid provides funds and expertise to reach some of the country’s poorest people, managing to support 466,000 people with water and 374,000 people with sanitation last year. Through working with local partners, communities have more sustainable access and management over water resources. Direct partnerships have helped facilitate more equitable distribution of water through a greater understanding the country’s specific water and sanitation issues, which in turn has supported efforts to reduce conflict over limited natural resources.
India is representative of many developing countries whose cities are undergoing rapid urbanisation leading to severe water scarcity. UN Water highlights this as a critical issue, given that 93% of urbanisation occurs in poor or developing countries, and nearly 40% of the world’s urban expansion is growing slums. Sustainable urbanisation is therefore of vital importance, as stated by John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s Population Division:
“Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda”.
This will require a massive overall of the water infrastructure in cities to replace antiquated systems that are wasting more freshwater than they deliver (UN Water 2015).
Water management is essential and very often the backbone to ensuring manufacturing industries stay powered. The focus on greater productivity means water efficiency and conservation is not managed effectively. Yet, innovative approaches can be seen exemplified by progressive textile manufactures that use technology to ensure water coming from mills become safe and clean drinking water. Given current projections estimating global water demand for manufacturing will increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050 (UN Water 2015), it is imperative that water management becomes more collectively integrated into business planning.
Water is the life source for our foods. UN Water reveals just how vital: one litre of water is needed to irrigate one calorie (2015). Globally, agriculture is the largest user of water, accounting for 70% of total withdrawal mostly in developing countries where livelihoods are dependent on agricultural farming. By 2050, developing countries will need to produce 100% more food to cater to rising populations and demand. This is unsustainable in reality. More programmes that reduce water losses and increase crop productivity need to be more widely implemented.
Water is fundamental to human security and its achievement through development. In order to one day reach a point of global water security, the most vulnerable impoverished groups must first be targeted within a wider framework catering to country-specific needs whilst also supporting governments through equitable funds necessary for country-wide investment in water purification, distribution and extraction facilities. This will more collectively help tackle the underlining symptoms of water security. In so doing, more concrete movements towards social well-being and inclusive growth will transform the livelihoods of billions.