30 Years Since UN Declared World Water Day: Inequalities in Access to Safe Water Remain
March 22 marks the 30th anniversary of the United Nations’ declaration of World Water Day, which aims to increase awareness about access to clean water across the world. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that only one in four people globally have access to safely managed water. Although progress has been made since 2000, resulting in 1.8 billion people now having basic drinking water services, a report by the WHO and UNICEF highlights vast inequalities in the accessibility, availability, and quality of these services.
The report also indicates that rural areas are particularly affected, with an estimated 144 million people drinking untreated surface water. People in wealthier locations are twice as likely to have basic water services than those in the poorest locations.
The African continent, where only 39% of the population used safely managed drinking water as of 2020, is one of the regions most affected by the lack of access to safe water. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, faces significant challenges, with around 794 million people lacking clean drinking water. According to UNICEF, progress has been slow for most African countries, and it estimates that it would need to increase its efforts 12-fold to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, including the implementation of safe drinking water for all.
The WHO and UNICEF report highlights the urgency of addressing these disparities in access to safe water, as it is essential for health, economic development, and environmental sustainability.
Water shortages have emerged as a major social and economic threat, particularly in Asia and Africa, where access to drinkable water is limited. India, for example, with 18% of the world’s population, has only 4% of its water resources, making it one of the most water-stressed countries. In China, groundwater drilling has contributed to a contaminated water supply. A recent report by the China Geological Survey found that 80-90% of groundwater in China is undrinkable, and half of its aquifers are too contaminated to tap for water, even in agricultural applications.
Drought and difficult access to water services persist in the Middle East and Latin America. In the Latin America and the Caribbean, an average of 0.8% of household spending goes towards drinking water, and residents spend more money on trucking in water than on piping it in. In the Middle East, desertification has led to overuse of desalination, with 70% of the world’s desalination plants located in the region. However, the concentrated salt in the desalination process creates a toxic brine that is often dumped back into oceans, causing imbalances in marine ecosystems. Desalination is also the most energy-costly water resource.
The report by the WHO and UNICEF underscores the urgency of addressing water scarcity and contamination in order to provide access to safe water for all, which is essential for health, economic development, and environmental sustainability.
Photo: United Nations
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