For almost the past decade, experts have voiced their concerns about global water insecurity, warning the world about the irreversible and catastrophic looming crisis. Yet, most of their words fell on deaf ears, leaving the situation to fester and millions to suffer. According to UN reports, if the world doesn’t take sufficient action to avoid this calamity, billions of people will suffer from major water insecurity by 2030.
An overlooked problem
Despite what some might label as a dramatic estimation, water insecurity is already a major problem in many developing countries. According to a 2019 WHO report, 1 in 3 people globally still does not have access to safe drinking water. The same report states that about 2.2 billion people don’t have “safely managed” drinking water services, 4.2 billion people lack “safely managed” sanitation services, and 3 billion require “basic” handwashing facilities. Even during normal circumstances, these numbers are alarming. With the pandemic’s outbreak, these numbers are most certainly fatally frightening.
“Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, yet millions of people across the world lack access to a reliable, safe supply of water”, expressed WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Furthermore, the UN estimates a minimum of 144 million drinking untreated surface water. Among people living in rural areas, almost 8 in 10 people don’t have access to clean water services, while 7 out of 10 lack basic sanitation.
“Mere access is not enough. If the water isn’t clean, isn’t safe to drink or is far away, and if toilet access is unsafe or limited, then we’re not delivering for the world’s children,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF. “Children and their families in poor and rural communities are most at risk of being left behind. Governments must invest in their communities if we are going to bridge these economic and geographic divides and deliver this essential human right.”
Reasons behind water scarcity
Experts often attribute water scarcity to physical and economic reasons. In the case of physical scarcity, the reason is purely natural and depends on ecological conditions. Yet, since climate change is a man-made problem, we can’t exactly put all of the blame on nature. As for economic scarcity, it mainly takes place in cases of inadequate water infrastructure and economic crises.
Even though one of the reasons is enough to cause distress, experts often find both reasons colliding together to cause water stress on a national scale. Disturbingly, experts admit that even when significant natural causes take place in a region, the human factor almost always plays a more central role.
“Almost always the drinking water problem has nothing to do with physical water scarcity,” says Georgetown University’s Mark Giordano, an expert on water management. “It has to do with the scarcity of financial and political wherewithal to put in the infrastructure to get people clean water. It’s separate.”
Oman and other Arab countries are the perfect proof of the alarming human factor. Most of these countries should suffer from water insecurity, mainly because of their geographic location. Yet, with sufficient infrastructure, most of them are thriving.
Even when water stress takes place in a country, the poor are the ones who suffer the most. According to the report, the rich have at least twice as high basic water services as that of the poorest, allowing inequalities to prevail once again.
Despite the progress made in this domain, experts estimate developing countries will need a ten-fold increase in order to avoid catastrophe in 2030. Yet, a new WRI research reveals that we would only need just over 1% of global GDP to adequately solve our water problem.
So if the major players cared enough, the world will have a fair chance to win against this calamity; especially since the economic benefits outweigh the costs.
“Closing inequality gaps in the accessibility, quality, and availability of water, sanitation, and hygiene should be at the heart of government funding and planning strategies. To relent on investment plans for universal coverage is to undermine decades’ worth of progress at the expense of coming generations,” said Kelly Ann Naylor.