Reportage. Water insecurity causes more deaths every year than traffic crashes and AIDS combined.

Clear, fresh drinking water — but not in the Southern Hemisphere

Among the many reasons of insecurity for people around the world, water insecurity doesn’t get much media attention, but it is important nonetheless. Ahead of World Water Day on Wednesday, the World Water Council has said that 12 percent of the world population has no access to sources of drinking water. Every day 4,500 children die from lack of access to clean water sources, and 3.5 million deaths are attributable to water-borne diseases, many more than the deaths caused by traffic accidents and AIDS combined.

The most dramatic situation is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 319 million inhabitants (32 percent of population) have no access to safe water, compared to 554 million Asians (12.5 percent of population) and 50 million South Americans (8 percent of population). At the bottom of the list, there are Papua New Guinea, where only 40 percent of the population has access to clean water sources, followed by Equatorial Guinea (48 percent), Angola (49 percent), Chad and Mozambique (51 percent), Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar (52 percent), and Afghanistan (55 percent).

Worldwide, the total cost of water insecurity on the global economy is estimated at $500 billion a year. If we add to this number the environmental impact, the figure increases further up, to one percent of the global Gross Domestic Product. All this produces famine, war and migration from the poorest to the richest areas of the world.

“This year, the focus of World Day are the problems associated with the disposal of waste water,” said the Chairman Brazilian Benedito Braga, during the ceremony of presentation of the report. “Worldwide, about 90 percent of the waste water ends up in the environment without any treatment, while more than 923 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, 2.4 billion suffer from the lack of adequate sanitation facilities. One in five children under five years of age dies prematurely each year from water-related diseases, and almost 40 percent of the world population lives with the problem of water scarcity, a figure that could grow to 66 percent of the world’s population by 2025, or two-thirds. In addition, about 700 million people are living in urban areas without safe sanitation services.”

What to do? According to the World Water Council, which brings together three hundred organizations, including government agencies, universities, think tanks, associations, suppliers of water resources and public and private operators, “the access to sanitation and water are key priorities for local and regional governments to achieve the Sixth Goal of Sustainable Global Development set up by the United Nations. This cannot be achieved without good local governance, sustainable management of natural resources and effective urbanization.”

Braga continued: “We need a higher level of commitment to ensure that every village and town in the world can tap into sources of clean water.”

Not a word about the damage caused by the liberalization and privatization that transformed water resources into yet another business without solving any problem. It actually created the dichotomy of opening to public investment and the recognition that the right to drinking water and adequate sanitation were enshrined by the U.N. in 2010 and sanctioned by law as universal human rights by two thirds of the 94 countries surveyed in 2014 by the World Health Organization.

Of these, 80 percent said they have launched national policies to guarantee access to drinking water and sanitation resources, and more than 75 percent have already implemented sanitation policies. However, commitments and promises are not enough: according to the World Water Council, “we need an annual investment of $650 billion up to 2030 to ensure the necessary infrastructure.” An impressive figure that, according to the World Water Council, can only be paid up by the governments.

According to Braga, it will be money well spent: “For every dollar invested in water services and their rehabilitation, a $4.3 yield is estimated (or 400 percent) due to savings on health care costs, a global individual and social benefit.”

He announced the upcoming meeting next year in Brasilia. The Brazilian capital will host the eighth World Water Forum, the world’s largest event on the topic. Among the 30,000 participants expected, including activists, researchers and experts, there will be dozens of Heads of State and Government, ministers and delegations from around the world. The headline of the initiative is: “Sharing water.”

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