Water & Sanitation

Water in the 21st Century

World Water Day is held annually on March 22. It’s an international day established by the United Nations General Assembly to increase public knowledge about the importance of water for basic global development and human prosperity. The day calls for increased awareness and action towards sustainably managed water resources.

The first World Water Day occurred a quarter century ago, but today's water challenges deserve more than a single day of observance. The International Decade for Action, which began in 2018, aims to promote practical actions and long-term solutions to 21st century water challenges.

Water, Health and Poverty

In 2001, then United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan proclaimed access to safe water essential in the fight to eliminate disease around the globe.

"We shall not finally defeat… diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care."

More than 2 billion people live without access to safe drinking water. This lack of clean, safe drinking water affects the health, well-being, and future livelihood of every one of those people, making poverty the biggest enemy of health in the world, and lack of safe water its key weapon of enslavement.

from unsafe water

Every 88 Seconds
kills a child

2.1 Billion
have no safe drinking water

Source: UNICEF

The Global Water Crisis

The "global water crisis" refers to a lack of sufficient clean water affecting communities throughout the world. A situation made worse over the last hundred years as water use has risen at more than twice the rate of population growth.

In most countries, water management efforts haven't been effectively adopted yet. Families living in communities facing water shortages risk displacement in coming years. They may have to leave the only land they've ever known as their water supply dries up, is used up, or becomes contaminated.

Clean water shortages and other water crises have surfaced in surprising places in recent years. The situations are shocking to us because we live as if access to safe, clean, drinking water is a given. However, for people living in low- to middle-income countries, water challenges, including shortages and unsafe drinking water, are part of their daily lives.

Two Ugandan women fill buckets with water from a pool of dirty standing water.

When clean water is in short supply, people turn to whatever is available. This often means turning to unclean surface water for drinking and sanitation. Surface water can be frequently contaminated with feces, putting those who drink it at risk of contracting a serious water-borne illness such as: cholera, dysentery, typhoid, or polio. These life-threatening diseases claim the lives of many. And yet, they could easily be prevented with access to clean water and proper sanitation.

Highlighting the concepts of resource management and sustainable development reflects an emerging realization across the global community. Put simply, the UN is recognizing that neglecting our ecosystems ultimately makes the task of providing everyone with clean water much harder. Nature-based solutions (NBS) are being embraced for their long-term ability to restore these ecosystems.

Water and Human Health

Children in poor communities who haven’t been trained in proper hygiene practices and who don’t have access to hygienic toilets, clean water and adequate sanitation facilities frequently get sick and miss school. Consistently missing school hinders their learning and harms their future career and occupational prospects. Girls are most affected.

In many low- and middle-income countries, girls are traditionally in charge of gathering and maintaining the household’s water supply. When a family does not have a safe water source nearby, the daughter traditionally tends to the need. Trips to collect water can take hours out of the day; hours that could be spent in school. But time in school is secondary to surviving and meeting the family’s need for water.

As a girl grows up, collecting water continues to demand a large portion of her time. Getting a job and earning an income becomes difficult. Time spent collecting water or dealing with a water-borne illness in the family further limits her family’s chances of surviving and thriving. Having nearby access to clean water can dramatically change the story.

There’s a clear need for action. The poor, and particularly children in poverty, are contracting deadly diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene at alarming rates. Half of child malnutrition cases are caused by unsafe water consumption, 1 and it is estimated that combining universal access to safe drinking water with adequate sanitation and proper hygiene practices, could reduce global cases of illness by 10 percent. 2

Beyond the immediate health concerns associated with drinking unclean water, there are long-term consequences that can affect children living in poverty for the rest of their lives.

Clean Water and the Sustainable Development Goals

Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right. In 2010, the UN declared that everyone has the right to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic use. And this idea also applies to sanitation. The right to adequate sanitation protects human privacy and dignity according to cultural and social standards. When successfully implemented, the rights to water and sanitation help form the groundwork of community development.

A group of young smiling and laughing Haitian children run hold cups of clean water in the air.

The world community's immediate objectives concerning water center around Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, "Ensure Access to Water and Sanitation for All." With a deadline to achieve universal clean water access set for 2030, SDG 6 is largely being approached through programs seeking improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Basic access to clean water is the foundation of all WASH programs. While community advancements along WASH guidelines have successfully led to increased health and long-term opportunities for children and their families, there is a lack of funding to meet the needs of many communities. These needs are significant and pressing.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Compassion exists to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. We look to Christ’s example of caring for the most vulnerable of people, particularly, children. Freeing a child from poverty opens up opportunities and allows them to realize their God-given potential. We need only to look at Matthew 10:42 to see God's heart for taking care of the needs of his children.

"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."
A young Thai girls holds up a glass of clean water and a glass of dirty water.

By ensuring children have their most basic needs provided for, we demonstrate Christ’s love. The focus of our WaSH efforts is to ensure that no Compassion-assisted child has to drink contaminated water or use unacceptable sanitation facilities. We provide the resources and infrastructure that help protect each child's health.

Interventions include:

  • Drilling wells
  • Establishing community waste collection and management initiatives
  • Providing water filtration systems
  • Installing rainwater harvesting systems
  • Building water storage and pumping systems
  • Providing hygiene education
  • Building septic systems
  • Training community members on equipment maintenance
  • Constructing toilets and washrooms

This World Water Day give clean water, education, health and protection from life-threatening diseases. Empower a child to dream and live fully.

Every $1 you invest in our Water and Sanitation Initiative creates a $4 return.

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1 World Health Organization, Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, Benefits, and Sustainability of Interventions to Protect and Promote Health (Geneva: WHO, 2008).
2 Prüss-Üstün A, Bos R, Gore F, Bartram J. Safer water, better health: costs, benefits and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health. World Health Organization, Geneva, 2008.


Please call us at 800-336-7676, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. MT, to speak with a Compassion representative.