A little (global) perspective around access to water

Access to clean, treated water, fit for human consumption, is something that developed countries take for granted, while parts of the world are deprived of even the most basic water access and sanitation facilities.

While some South Africans bemoan the lack of water with which to wash their cars, 844 million people globally still lack even basic water services.
While we allow water to swirl down the drain after washing our dishes, 844 million people are forced to travel long distances to collect polluted and/or untreated water for drinking and cooking.

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) shows water inequality around the world, while South Africa’s Constitution outlines the right of water access to the entire population.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, commenting at the release of the report, said: “Safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home should not be a privilege of only those who are rich or live in urban centres.”

Life itself depends on access to clean water and, according to the UN, poor hygiene and unsafe water are responsible for nearly 90% of the two million deaths – most of them children – from diarrhoeal diseases each year.

The report gathers data from 232 countries and is the first ever to document worldwide access to safely managed drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. Since 2000, 71% of the global population has gained access to water and sanitation services, and of this, only one in three people living in rural areas has easy access to water that is fit for human consumption.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 58% of the 159 million people who rely on surface water sources and, while the focus remains on increasing access to drinking water, providing decent sanitation and hygiene services is much slower. In this sector, only two in five people globally, have access to suitable toilets and adequate water treatment services.

An open sewer runs alongside a railway track in the Kibera slum of Kenya's capital Nairobi. Credit: Darrin Zammit Lupi

It is this sector of the population that suffers with life-threatening infectious diseases like cholera and typhoid, which are spread by poor sanitation and hygiene. Clean water and adequate sanitation are the first steps towards preventing such outbreaks.

Despite many governments providing toilets and safe drinking water, many people do not have facilities to wash their hands properly and, using only water is not enough to prevent bacterial transference. People also need soap and, often, even with running water, this is not available. Handwashing is essential in preventing the spread of disease and is the first line of defense again preventing life-threatening infectious diseases.

Credit: exairport 

Of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which comprises a list of 17 goals for ending poverty and ensuring prosperity across world, Goal 6 is to: ‘Ensure access to water and sanitation for all’ and includes providing basic hygiene and handwashing facilities.
The available information revealed that, when it came access to basic hand-washing facilities, sub-Saharan Africa lagged Northern Africa and Western Asia by a wide margin, 15% compared to 76%.

The WHO says faster progress is required to meet the UN’s 2030 goal of worldwide access to water and sanitation.

… And while we wash our hands, we let litres drain away without even a second thought.


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