More than 40 per cent of the world’s population do not have access to sufficient quantities of clean water, and water stress is set to worsen in many parts of the world.
In many places the quality of available water is already dramatically poor. It is estimated that the drinking water used by more than 1.8 billion people is contaminated by pathogens. One third of people around the world, having no access to hygienic toilets, are forced to make do with buckets, unhygienic latrines or to relieve themselves in the open. The situation is further compounded by the fact that about three quarters of the wastewater we produce is discharged untreated into rivers or the sea. All this has serious impacts, for instance on agriculture, which needs sufficient quantities of water to produce food. Poor hygiene is responsible for a great many diseases – which can often be fatal for children – while untreated wastewater pollutes natural water resources.
What must be done?
Everybody must have access to safe drinking water and to hygienic toilets or latrines. Water management must be improved in many countries, meaning that there must be a reliable, equitable and affordable supply of safe drinking water, and that water losses from leaky pipes must be stopped. All wastewater must be collected and treated.
If we are to ensure an adequate supply of safe water in the long term, we must ensure that we use water resources sustainably. That means that ecosystems that are important for the water balance, including forests, wetlands and rivers, must be protected or restored.
Facts and figures
- While in 1998, a total of 36 countries suffered water stress, this figure had risen to 41 by 2011.
- Worldwide about 10 per cent of people have no access to safe drinking water .
- Around 950 million people around the world have no access to toilets and have to relieve themselves in the open.
- About 5,000 children under the age of five die every day of diseases caused by contaminated water, including diarrhoea and cholera.
- Worldwide more than 80 per cent of wastewater is discharged untreated into the natural environment.