Even though the world has less than 10 years to achieve the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the Goal 6 particularly target 1 to “achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” by 2030, is among the furthest behind.
Today, 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children – live in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability.
Less than 3 per cent of the world’s water resources is freshwater. Decades of misuse, poor management, over-extraction of groundwater and contamination of freshwater supplies have exacerbated water stress. At the same time, demand for water is rising due to rapid population growth, urbanization and increasing water needs from a range of sectors, notably agriculture, industry and energy.
Climate change is also compounding water scarcity through changing precipitation patterns and increased water demand. Rising sea levels can lead to saltwater intrusion, contaminating drinking water supplies. Rapid melting of glaciers changes the river flow patterns in the downstream areas, contributing to risks of flooding, damage to infrastructure (including dam bursts), as well as low flows in rivers, reducing the amount of water available.
Water scarcity and climate change are also drivers of conflict and migration, as communities and entire populations compete for shrinking water resources. Families may be forced to leave their homes in search of reliable water supplies and livelihood opportunities, often moving to urban areas and towns, putting even more pressure on already strained services.
Where is water insecurity a problem?
Though water scarcity is a problem in many parts of the world, water insecurity is overwhelmingly an issue among the most vulnerable populations. As some water services are more vulnerable to water scarcity than others, UNICEF undertook an analysis of where areas of physical water scarcity overlap with areas where people have a poor water service or even no service, meaning that they depend on untreated surface water, unimproved sources or it takes more than 30 minutes to collect water. This analysis was undertaken using water risk data from the World Resources Institute (WRI), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) and population density maps using data from Gridded Population of the World version 4 (GPWv4) and WorldPop. The analysis revealed that 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children – live in such areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability
The resulting impact on children’s health, development, and safety threatens the significant progress made in child survival and sustainable development over the past several decades. It is putting children’s lives at risk today and threatens future generations.
Undeniably, the fundamental conditions that support human life are threatened. We are entering a new era of health outbreaks, poverty, scarcity, hallmarked by competition for land, water, food, and energy. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a new sustainable approach.