World Water Day raises personal, technical issues

Water is the basic building block of life on Earth. Thankfully, it seems that water is in plentiful supply in most places in our country. Because of our vast water and sewer systems, it is easy to overlook the fact that nearly 1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water and that 2.6 billion people do not have access to a sanitary toilet. We may not know that thousands of people die every day, not from the consequences of war but because of dehydration and diseases caused by lack of sanitation.

From UN photo galleries

Learning about those issues is what the United Nations World Water Day is all about, as stated in a message from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:

“Our growing population’s need for water for food, raw materials and energy is increasingly competing with nature’s own demands for water to sustain already imperiled ecosystems and the services on which we depend…

“The theme of this year’s World Water Day, ‘Clean Water for a Healthy World,’ emphasizes that both the quality and the quantity of water resources are at risk. More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war. These deaths are an affront to our common humanity, and undermine the efforts of many countries to achieve their development potential.”

Check out the UN photo galleries.

The “Millennium Development Goal,” established by a joint committee of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and the World Health Organization, is to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation.”

Let’s take a look at progress since the goal was established a decade ago, as reported in the 2010 report called “Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water.”


Improved sanitation devices are used by less than two-thirds of the world’s population, and regional differences are stunning. Of the 2.6 billion people without sanitation, by far the greatest number are in Southern Asia. Other large numbers are found in Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 1990, notable increases in sanitation have been made in Northern Africa, South-eastern Asia and Eastern Asia, but there’s been almost no progress in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and things have gotten worse in Oceania.

Click to enlarge

At the current rate of progress, the world will miss the Millennium goal by 13 percentage points, leaving 2.7 billion people without access to sanitation. It would take a phenomenal effort to reach the original goal of halving the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

Drinking water

Compared to sanitation, quite a few people in the world drink water that meets health standards. Some 87 percent have access to improved water sources, including 84 percent in developing regions. Even so, 884 million still lack adequate drinking water, with a third of those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite an 11-percent increase in drinking water supplies in that region since 1990, 40 percent still do not have access to improved water supplies.

Thanks to efforts to improve drinking water supplies since 1990, the world is expected to exceed the Millennium goal of reducing the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015. The work will need to continue, however, since 672 million people will still lack improved water sources in 2015.

As the monitoring study points out, the figures can be a little misleading. The population gets counted as having safe water if they can get to it. But more than half the population living in rural areas of Africa need to walk more than 30 minutes to collect their water. As evidence that people are paying attention to this problem, check out the Amusing Monday issue from March 1.

If you’ve stayed with me so far, here is a final video from Good magazine that seems to put it all together. Good is one of many organizations recognizing World Water Day 2010.

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