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.