Wanting water and sanitation for all

| July 2, 2018 | 0 Comments
At Government Higher Primary School in Puchhaldini Village in Raichur, India, children practise handwashing every day. (Photo: wateraid, ishita rampal)

At Government Higher Primary School in Puchhaldini Village in Raichur, India, children practise handwashing every day. (Photo: wateraid, ishita rampal)

Turning on a tap: It was probably the first thing you did this morning. However, for 844 million people around the world, this everyday essential — this human right, no less — is out of reach.
Earlier this year, Cape Town hit the headlines in the lead-up to what its mayor dubbed “Day Zero,” the day on which the city taps would run dry.
It was a wake-up call for anyone who, until then, had been privileged enough to take clean water for granted.
A global crisis
The water crisis is no longer just a problem for remote African villages or crowded Asian slums. It’s everyone’s problem now. Already, more than 60 per cent of humanity lives in areas of water stress — places where the supply of water cannot or will not continue to meet demand. There’s also a considerable crisis in sanitation and hygiene — almost one in three people in the world, or 2.3 billion total, do not have a decent household toilet. The resulting diarrheal diseases kill 289,000 children under five every year.
Women and girls are most affected, as they typically carry the burden of water collection. Combined, they spend up to 200 million hours a day collecting water. The World Health Organization recommends a daily minimum of 50 litres of water per person. To collect this much water for a family of four, from 15 minutes away using a 20-litre jerry can, takes a mother five hours each and every day. And, filled, that can weigh 20 kilograms — a crushing load that women and girls often carry on their heads.
This has a devastating effect on people’s economic well-being and security. The losses from dirty water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene in middle- and low-income countries are estimated to be $260 billion US annually.

DIPLOMAT_2018-07-02_0067Ground zero for the problem
Where clean water is already difficult to find, additional pressure on resources takes the situation to breaking point. In Eritrea, just 19 per cent of the population has clean water close to home, with increased demand from the many refugees now passing through. The figure is 37 per cent in Papua New Guinea — second lowest in the world — and the impacts of climate change appear to make things worse. Uganda is close behind at 38 per cent. While the country has made progress since its civil war, conflict in neighbouring South Sudan has contributed to it becoming host to the largest number of refugees in Africa.
All 10 of the world’s worst countries for access to basic sanitation are in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, on average, only 28 per cent of the population has somewhere decent to go to the toilet and children are 15 times more likely to die before they reach the age of five than in developed regions. In Ethiopia, only seven per cent of the population has access to acceptable sanitation. This means more than 46 million women and girls in Ethiopia have nowhere safe to go to the toilet — a number that’s higher than the entire population of Canada.

The stories behind the stats
What these statistics hide, however, are the human stories. I have worked in international development and humanitarian assistance for 20 years, and have seen for myself the damage caused by the lack of access to these human rights.
Last year, I travelled to Madagascar, an island nation ranked 158th of 188 countries listed on the UN Human Development Index. Nearly half of Malagasy people have no clean water, and approximately nine of 10 have no decent toilet. Without water, it’s difficult for people to make hygiene a priority. Deadly diarrheal diseases are common.
I visited a small rural community health centre and was shown two rudimentary rooms where women came to give birth. When I asked where the midwives fetched their water, I had to walk 500 metres down a steep path to look into a dirty hole in the muddy ground. This was the water used to wash women after they gave birth and to bathe their newborn babies.
Sustainable Development Goals
In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals aimed to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to clean water and decent toilets. And this was achieved. Between 1990 and 2015, 2.6 billion people were finally able to access clean water and 2.1 billion secured sanitation.
In 2015, world leaders stepped up their ambitions with the Sustainable Development Goals, including goal No. 6 — to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”
This summer, the UN will meet to review progress. Three years in, it’s not looking good. Some countries remain years off track to meet their commitments and obligations. For others, it’s decades. If we continue with business as usual, we won’t see universal access to safely managed clean water services until 2064. And we’ll have to wait until 2107 for everyone to have an acceptable level of sanitation services. Across Africa and South Asia, there are vast discrepancies between richest and poorest. And globally, almost a billion people are still defecating in the open.

The way forward
There has been progress, and that progress continues. In 2015, there were 686,000 fewer child deaths from diarrheal diseases than in 2000. Countries such as Mozambique, Mali and Cambodia are showing remarkable improvements in access to clean water and sanitation. And under the political leadership of India’s government, a “Clean India” campaign has been launched and has been instrumental in installing millions of toilets across the country.
Over the past 35 years, WaterAid has reached 25 million people with clean water and the same number with decent toilets. Millions of lives have been saved and transformed. But the scale of the problem is so huge, we alone can’t solve it with a tap-by-tap, toilet-by-toilet approach. We’re working to bring NGOs, governments, businesses and citizens together to make a bigger difference.
This is a crisis that can be fixed. By sharing our experiences, co-ordinating our efforts and strengthening our systems to deliver sustainable, environmentally responsible services, we can achieve this ambitious goal — a world where clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are the norm for everyone, everywhere. A day when “Day Zero” is consigned to history.

Nicole Hurtubise is the CEO of WaterAid.

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Nicole Hurtubise is the CEO of WaterAid.

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