WATER, WATER everywhere and not a drop to drink…

Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water (or about 0.007% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for direct human use.

Water is essential not only to to personal health, but also to healthy economic, geopolitical, and environmental conditions around the world. Yet due to population growth, climate change, and mismanagement, the need for adequate, affordable drinking (and irrigation) water is a growing international crisis.

The UN estimates that by 2025, forty-eight nations, with combined population of 2.8 billion, will face freshwater “stress” or “scarcity”.

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But first of all, safe drinking water: who has it and who hasn't?

1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-sixth of the world's population.

Percentage of population with access to safe water by country, 2000



  • 3.575 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
  • Half of the world's hospital bedsare filled with people suffering from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
  • In the past 10 years, diarrhea has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II. 88% of cases of diarrhea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene. 90% of all deaths caused by diarrheal diseases are children under 5 years of age, mostly in developing countries.
  • Almost one-tenth of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources. Such improvements reduce child mortality and improve health and nutritional status in a sustainable way


Percentage of total disease burden caused by unsafe water by country, 2000


Women and Children are the most affected!


  • Some 6,000 children die every day from disease associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Diarrhea remains in the second leading cause of death among children under five globally. Nearly one in five child deaths – about 1.5 million each year – is due to diarrhea. It kills more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
  • Tens of millions of children cannot go to school as they must fetch water every day. Drop out rates for adolescent girls, who even make it that far, skyrocket once they hit puberty as there are no private sanitation facilities at their schools.
  • The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is 6 kilometers. In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women’s time is consumed for the most basic of human needs — collecting water for domestic use.
  • Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.
  • Projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more sustainable and effective than those that do not. This supports an earlier World Bank study that found that women’s participation was strongly associated with water and sanitation project effectiveness.



Money money money... it is a rich man’s world

Almost two in every three people who need safe drinking water survive on less than $2 a day and one in three on less than $1 a day.

Investment in drinking-water and sanitation would result in 272 million more school attendance days a year. The value of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, would amount to US$ 3.6 billion a year.

Investment in safe drinking water and sanitation contributes to economic growth. For each $1 invested, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates returns of $3 – $34, depending on the region and technology.

Even though investment in sanitation is still considered unaffordable, it's not. According to Water Aid's Chief Executive Barbara Frost it's just not as "politically sexy" - there is enough money around, "but the key issue is how to direct it." So while water continues to be seen as a political priority, sanitation is not. Amy Leung, an urban development specialist from the Asian Development Bank explains, "Health doesn't cut it. It's all about the money, and sanitation is definitely not on the top agenda. But we aim to prove to governments that it's costing them economic growth. We want to argue that sanitation is a good investment and we should approach the ministers of finance rather than health."

R. Andreas Kraemer, Director of the Ecologic Institute for Berlin and Vienna, says "there is no one solution for the world - we need regional policies and national change, therefore good governance is a key factor in solving this issue. Policies are very good in optimizing the current situation but do not address the future. We need to develop policies that can be implemented as we learn. However many of the technocrats in charge of water management solutions want to keep their power intact by controlling policy. Parliamentarians rarely understand the engineer's complex work and therefore contribute little to solving the crisis."

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Humans are not the only ones affected

More than 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas.

In May 2010, the UN produced the 3rd Global Biodiversity Outlook report. In it, the report notes that “shallow-water wetlands such as marshes, swamps and shallow lakes have declined significantly in many parts of the world.” (p.42). The report also notes that water quality in freshwater ecosystems is an important biodiversity indicator, yet global data is quite lacking. But there are numerous examples that are known.

73% of marshes in northern Greece have been drained since 1930. 60% of the original wetland area of Spain has been lost.

More than 40% of the global river discharge is now intercepted by large dams and one-third of sediment destined for the coastal zones no longer arrives. These large-scale disruptions have had a major impact on fish migration, freshwater biodiversity more generally and the services it provides. They also have a significant influence on biodiversity in terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.


Should we be expecting water wars?

(taken from http://www.globalissues.org/article/601/water-and-development)

For a number of years now, we have heard of predictions that future wars will be fought over control of essential resources, such as water. To some extent, most wars have already been about that. However, in terms of water itself, some experts question this prediction:

“Water wars make good newspaper headlines but cooperation (agreements) don’t.… there are plenty of bilateral, multilateral and trans-boundary agreements for water-sharing—all or most of which do not make good newspaper copy.”

Others have noted that there are many more examples of cooperation than conflict in regions with shared water interests. The Stockholm International Water Institute opines that “10- to 20-year-old arguments about conflict over water are still being recycled.”

At the same time there have been various incidents that fuel the fear of water-related wars, such as Israel’s recent bombing of the Lebanese water pipelines from the Litani River to farmland along the coastal plain and parts of the Bekaa Valley, and the conflict in Sri Lanka where the rebel group diverted a canal.

Other examples that might be worth watching include the Panama canal as that country considers nationalizing it, the North West Passage through Canada’s northern polar region that is now opening up more due to climate change, which the US argues should be an international water way, and various others that may affect water dependency further up or downstream (e.g. between India/Pakistan, Israel/Jordan, various Nile-dependent countries throughout northern, eastern and central Africa).

The Stockholm International Water Institute also argues that “Such arguments [for water wars] ignore massive amounts of recent research which shows that water-scarce states that share a water body tend to find cooperative solutions rather than enter into violent conflict,” which may offer hope that conflicts do not arise, at least not due to water resources.

Maude Barlow, in the short video below raises the concern of geopolitical issues with water. She notes that places such as United States, China and Europe are all seeing water as a national security issue, whether it be for access, management or shortage. Control and access to water will also be important for their industries, as well as for people’s consumption: http://www.bigpicture.tv/?id=3454


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