2017 Aug 10
The United Nations (UN) considers access to be clean water to be a basic human right. Still, despite the importance bestowed upon the access to high-quality water, millions of children and adults continue to die due to inadequate water supply, sanitation facilities and hygiene facilities.
Water scarcity, lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation facilities adversely affect supply of food, livelihoods, education, health and wellbeing across the world. Droughts, such as the prevalent crisis in the North and the East of Sri Lanka, intensify these problems and fuel hunger, malnourishment and disease.
Let’s look at some facts and figures:
- Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the world and continues to rise steadily.
- At least 1.8 billion people around the world use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated.
- Approximately 2.4 billion people lack access to proper sanitation facilities.
- In the 20th century, rate of water withdrawal growth was almost twice the rate of population growth.
- More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or oceans without any form of pollution-removal treatments.
- Worldwide, more than 2 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases.
- Nearly 1,000 children die from preventable waterborne diarrhoeal diseases daily.
- Water and sanitation-related diseases remain among the major causes of death in children under the age of 5.
- Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters.
- In the upcoming decades, one-third of the global population – particularly those living in the semi-arid regions of Asia, and in sub-Saharan Africa – will experience even more severe water scarcity.
- The demand for water required for irrigation purposes is expected to increase by around 5 percent by the year 2050.
- If the SDGs are not achieved by 2030, it is projected that at least one in four people will be affected by recurring water shortages by the year 2050.
It is therefore clear as to why universal access to clean water and sanitation has been chosen as one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) dictated by the UN for the 2030 development agenda.
What is significant about this particular goal is that the achievement of all other SDGs is dependent on the progress of this 6th SDG that is clean water and sanitation. Clean water and sanitation are the key to promoting good health and gender equality. These in turn will lead to better economic growth. Through the achievement of the 6th SDG, climate action can also be combated to a considerable extent.
Targets of SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
- By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
- By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
- By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.
- By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through trans-boundary cooperation as appropriate.
- By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.
- By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies.
- Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.
The status quo in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka as a nation has improved island-wide access to clean water by 84 percent, and sanitation by a staggering 86 percent. Whilst this is certainly commendable, at present, citizens of the North and the East are suffering from lack of water owing to the drought crisis. Men, women and children alike have been forced to travel miles upon miles in search of water.
Additionally, the recent garbage disposal issue may also have contributed to water pollution, owing to the dumping of waste in water bodies.
What can we do?
Boiling only destroys the microorganisms in drinking water. There are still hundreds upon hundreds of different types of contaminants such as heavy metals, dust particles, silt and chemicals, some of which aren’t visible to our naked eye, that still contaminate water even after boiling. You can never go overboard with precautionary measures when it comes to health and wellbeing, so make sure to boil AND filter the water you drink, to eliminate as much of the pollutants as possible.
Ensuring universal access to clean drinking water demands that we invest in necessary infrastructure projects, provide sanitation facilities, encourage hygiene at every level, and spread awareness across the country and across the world.
Additionally, we must also spread awareness about the importance of drinking clean water and following good practices of sanitation, to uplift the overall health and wellbeing of our country.
A single drop of water is worth more than a whole sack of gold to a thirsty man.
So don’t forget: life starts with water, and clean water starts with you.