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Billions Still Lack Access to Clean Water and Sanitation, Says UN Report

“Unfortunately, a lot of government leaders, they're thinking taps and toilets, and they're not seeing the truer, broader picture,” Connor said

water, UN, sanitation
Residents fill their containers with drinking water from a municipal tanker in New Delhi, India, June 26, 2018. VOA

A new study — the United Nations World Water Development Report — finds that investing in clean water and sanitation is an economic and social winner, but billions of the world’s poorest people still lack access to these key services.

Access to safe, affordable and reliable water and sanitation is considered a basic human right, and one of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals governments have pledged to realize by 2030. But there’s a big gap right now between promises and reality.

Poverty a common thread

The latest U.N. World Water Development Report finds myriad groups, including women and sometimes the elderly, can be excluded from what many of us consider basic services. Most have one thing in common: poverty.

“Water has not been given the priority in terms of development policy that it should be,” said Richard Connor, the report’s editor-in-chief. “If you look at electrification for instance, energy is seen as big business, something controlled by the private sector.”

UN, water, sanitation
Children wash their heads with rain water in the village of Kobo, one of the drought stricken areas of Oromia region in Ethiopia, April 28, 2016. VOA

“Unfortunately, a lot of government leaders, they’re thinking taps and toilets, and they’re not seeing the truer, broader picture,” Connor said.

Connor said the bigger picture is that investing in water and sanitation can bring big returns for governments, for example, in health care expenses that are avoided because people are less sick. And it helps people get out of poverty.

But for many of the world’s poorest, those investments are elusive. The report zeros in on three broad population groups — the urban and rural poor, as well as refugees and internally displaced people.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 60 percent of the urban population lives in slums,” Connor said. “And for the most part, they don’t have access to proper water and sanitation services. They can pay from 10 to 20 times more for their water than their affluent neighbors.”

Under the radar

Connor said the urban poor fall under the radar because they often don’t pay taxes and aren’t counted in official records. But the study finds millions of rural poor, including smallholder farmers, also cannot access these basic services — including crucial water supplies during planting and droughts.

UN, water, sanitation
Syrian refugees collect water at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, near the border with Syria, Aug. 18, 2016. VOA

“We’ve discovered that if the small farmholders have access to water for supplemental irrigation, their crop yields will increase by two-to-three-fold,” Connor said.

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The third group — refugees and internally displaced people — are also considered among the world’s most vulnerable. But sometimes the presence of international aid means they can have better access to decent water and sanitation than the host communities. In both cases, however, the report finds these inequalities create tensions.

Connor said progress is being made in ensuring decent water and sanitation become accessible to everyone. But the report’s overall message is, it’s not enough. (VOA)


Next Story

Scientists Warn that Climate Change May Affect Earth’s Long-Term Water Supply

Summit co-chair, Canadian John Pomeroy, a water resources and climate change expert, said the loss of water resources in mountain ranges around the world is devastating the communities in those areas

Climate Change
Climate Change is causing temperatures to rise in Earth's frozen zones, leading to a rapid melting on vital peaks. Pixabay

Experts warn that climate change is speeding up melting on Earth’s frozen peaks, threatening the planet’s long-term water supply.

The more than 150 global mountain experts attending the first High Mountain Summit warn time is running out for the world’s glaciers. They say climate change is causing temperatures to rise in Earth’s frozen zones, leading to a rapid melting on vital peaks.

For example, scientists say Swiss glaciers have lost 10 percent of their volume in the past five years. The disappearance of hundreds of small glaciers in the Alps was dramatized when hundreds of mourners recently attended what was dubbed a “funeral” to mark the loss of Switzerland’s Pizol glacier.

The World Meteorological Organization reports international observers show an acceleration in the retreat of 31 major glaciers in the past two decades. They include mountains in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush regions and Tibetan Plateau in Asia.

Summit co-chair, Canadian John Pomeroy, a water resources and climate change expert, said the loss of water resources in mountain ranges around the world is devastating the communities in those areas.  He said it also is destabilizing vast populations downstream.

“Around half of humanity relies upon water and rivers that originate in the high mountains. And, so this is used for irrigation. It is used for power production, hydroelectricity. It is used for our urban and community water supplies and it provides essential water for ecosystems from the mountaintop down to the sea.”

Pomeroy added the rapidly melting mountain glaciers are contributing to rising sea levels. He notes cities along the ocean such as Miami, Venice and Jakarta already are in big trouble.

Climate Change
After Climate Change, This combination of Sept. 14, 1986, left, and Aug. 1, 2019 photos provided by NASA shows the shrinking of the Okjokull glacier on the Ok volcano in west-central Iceland. A geological map from 1901 estimated Okjökull spanned an area of about 38 square kilometers (15 square miles). In 1978, aerial photography showed the glacier was 3 square kilometers. in 2019, less than 1 square kilometer remains. VOA

“For the high mountain communities or valleys in north India, Pakistan, central Asia, their irrigation is the only source of water for agriculture that is currently provided by ice melt from glaciers,” Pomeroy said. “And the glaciers are retreating … In the Western U.S., 90 percent of the water supplies are from the high mountains and they drive the economy.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which measures the impact of global warming, predicts snow cover, glaciers and permafrost will continue to decline in almost all regions throughout this century.

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The summit is calling for urgent action to support more sustainable development in both high-mountain areas and downstream. That will involve disaster risk reduction measures, better early warning systems, climate change adaptation and investment in infrastructure to make communities safer. (VOA)