This Saturday, the world will commemorate World Water Day – an event which will be used to call upon governments and partners to ensure universal safe water access for all.
From the “glass is half full” point of view, we can see much progress has been made. The Millennium Development Goal target for Water was met in 2010, and 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved water sources since 1990.
The flip side to this is that progress has been highly inequitable, with the most progress being made in urban areas, mostly outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Around 768 million people – more than the population of Europe – still don’t have access to safe drinking water. These people represent the world’s poorest and most marginalized, with many being forced to rely on water from unsafe surface sources (such as rivers and lakes).
The numbers represent real lives of real children. For UNICEF every child is important. Every child has the right to survive, the right to health, the right to a future, and improvements in water and sanitation are absolutely vital in order to ensure child survival and development. With 71% of the burden of drinking water collection being shouldered by women and girls, access to water is also an issue of dignity and gender equality.
Over 100 UNICEF Country Offices currently implement Water and Sanitation programming, and new initiatives such as Manual Drilling and community-based Water Safety Planning already helping to ensure safe and sustainable water access for families living in some of the most isolated regions. For example in Pakistan 2,000 new manually-drilled water points have been installed since 2012 – bringing safe water to around 100,000 people. UNICEF-supported WASH in Schools programming is also helping to ensure that millions of children around the world have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
This week, UNICEF launched a global Social Media Campaign to demand action for the 768 million people who are currently living without access to safe water. Followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be asked to discuss what water means to them through the use of photography and the hashtag #WaterIs to help raise awareness of plight of those currently living without safe water. For more information on how to get involved please see below.
Emily Bamford is a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Officer working for UNICEF, New York where she specializes in low-cost drilling technologies, climate change resilience, community sanitation and hygiene. Before joining UNICEF New York, she worked in Tanzania, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sierra Leone.