How many people don’t have clean water in the world?

feature image - dont have a clean water

Today more and more people are deprived of clean water. Climate change, growing population, outdated infrastructure, lack of knowledge, and wasteful attitudes are the root cause of the problem.

Not only rural people are facing the problem of lack of clean water. But even residents of developed cities like Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, and Barcelona also face the same problem. A day will come when there is no drinking water coming out of the tap. 

Reports of various organizations

United Nations- 2021 Report

The United Nations (UN) denounced in July 2021 that one in four people still doesn’t have access to safe drinking water and that half of the world population does not have bathrooms with adequate sanitation systems.

This situation on a global scale is made known in a new report, released in July 2021, on access to drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Fund for Health Childhood (UNICEF). 

In the document, the two agencies of the UN system warn of the impossibility of universalizing these services and primary care in 2030, as established in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the well-known 2030 Agenda.

The report shows that two billion people in the world, one in four people, don’t have easy access to safe drinking water, while half of the world’s population (3.6 billion people) does not have waste treatment services. 

Already a third of the world population, in the order of 2.3 billion people, does not have access to facilities to carry out their basic and daily hygiene.

In 2020, a year marked by the spread of COVID-19, 3 out of 10 people lacked the means and resources to prevent COVID-19 infections: wash your hands with soap and water.

Access to these essential services is progressing worldwide, but at a plodding pace, denounces the document signed by WHO and UNICEF, which predict that the percentage of people with these needs will decrease by only one percentage point per year.

Suppose this slow pace continues, in 2030, the year set by the UN to measure the achievement of development goals. In that case, the world will still have 1.6 billion people without clean water, 1.9 billion people without hygiene facilities (one in every five people), and 2.8 billion people (one-third of the world’s population) without essential sanitation services.

Given these projections, the two UN agencies called for the acceleration of these essential services in geographical areas in severe need. The world must do it at a pace four times higher than the current rate.

The report indicates that 80% of people who lack these essential services live in rural areas. Sub-Saharan Africa has the most significant deficiencies, as only 54% of its population has access to safe drinking water.

UN Report on Inequality in access to clean water

Clean water is everyone’s problem. Copyright: XPRIZE

According to this report, since 2000, 1.8 billion people have obtained access to essential water services, 2 billion to sanitation. At the same time, there are widespread inequalities in the availability and quality of these services.

According to UN estimation, 785 million people worldwide don’t have access to essential water supply services, of which 144 million have to drink water from rivers, lakes, and other streams and reservoirs that have not been decontaminated.

Since 2000, the share of the population practicing open defecation has more than halved 2000 – from 23 to 9% – the report says. 

In 23 countries, this phenomenon in the 21st century came to naught. However, for 673 million people worldwide, the situation remains the same. 

Thirty-nine countries have seen an increase in open defecation since 2000, mainly in sub-Saharan countries, where the population has increased over this time.

Three billion people cannot wash their hands with soap and water at home, according to WHO and UNICEF. In the least developed countries, almost three-quarters of the population is deprived of this opportunity. 

The report says that about 297,000 children under the age of five die each year from diarrhea due to inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

UNESCO 2019 Report

Globally, 2.1 billion people do not have consistent access to safe drinking water. The data is stated in Geneva’s UNESCO report released on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. 

Another 4.3 billion people are deprived of adequate plumbing equipment. At the same time, people living in poverty are in a challenging situation – refugees and slum dwellers, the document says.

According to the report, more than two billion people live without clean drinking water, and 844 million are forced to spend at least half an hour every day to get water or have no access to it at all.

Even in Europe and North America, about 57 million people do not have plumbing in their homes, and 36 million do not even have basic plumbing.

Among those in the most challenging situation are the Indian communities in Canada. Forty percent of them have access only to poor-quality water with all the ensuing negative health consequences.

UN forecast

According to UN forecasts, by 2050, up to 5.7 billion people will live in areas with a freshwater shortage for at least one month a year. 

And by 2040, the global water demand may increase by more than 50%, while the demand for energy resources – by more than 25%. 

Much of the impact will be felt in the tropics, where most developing countries are located. Mountainous areas are also exceptionally vulnerable.

According to the report’s authors, the need to improve water management is recognized but is not being translated into reality. The contributions of member states on the Paris Agreement remain vague, with no specific plans for water.

The organization is calling for intelligent water use that will help combat floods and droughts, increase access to water for more people, reduce pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, and combat climate change.

In particular, if the temperature on the planet is prevented from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial period, then the problem of lack of freshwater can be halved.

The organization also notes that sustainable water and sanitation can prevent more than 360,000 newborn deaths each year.

Reasons for lack of clean water

The following is a brief explanation for the lack of clean water for people of the world:

1. Climate Change

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Water withdrawals comparisons in the United States (source)

Climate change makes the planet earth hotter, so temperatures are getting higher in the world’s most heated areas. Clouds quickly move away from the equator towards the poles due to Hadley Cell expansion’s climate change phenomenon

This phenomenon reduces rainfall essential for life in equatorial regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Central America.

Meanwhile, climate change increases rainfall in other areas. This condition especially threatens residents near rivers and streams. 

Currently, nearly 21 million people worldwide are at risk of being affected by river flooding every year. That figure could reach 54 million by 2030.

2. Drained Groundwater

About 30 percent of the clean water on Earth is buried deep in aquifers. This pure water is taken daily for agriculture, drinking water, and industry in large quantities, which are dangerous for sustainability. 

This event can be seen in India, where groundwater consumption is higher than in any other country. Groundwater wells in India have decreased by 54 percent, indicating that water use is much higher than it is filled. 

If this pattern is not changed, within 20 years, 60 percent of India’s aquifers will reach a critical condition.

Unlike storms or draining lakes, the decline in water reserves in aquifers is not visible. This phenomenon is a hidden threat that is getting worse for global water supplies.

3. Poor Water Infrastructure Condition

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Clean water leakage due to weak infrastructure (source)

Ensuring an adequate water supply is only the first step. Water needs to be transported, treated, and drained. 

Water infrastructure such as treatment plants, pipes, and sewer systems worldwide are badly damaged. In the United States, pipe leaks result in 6 billion gallons of treated water wasted every day. 

Installation and repair of the infrastructure that has been built are notoriously expensive. As a result, many regions ignore infrastructure problems that continue to escalate to catastrophic consequences.

4. Natural Infrastructure Is Neglected

A healthy and natural ecosystem plays an essential role in maintaining a clean water supply. These ecosystems filter pollutants, withstand floods and storms and regulate water supplies.

Plants and trees are needed for replenishing groundwater; rainfall cannot seep into the soil without them. Deforestation, overgrazing, and urbanization are causing reduced vegetation.

All these activities are reducing our natural infrastructure and the benefits it provides. Worldwide, forest-rich watersheds are under threat: 22 percent of watershed forests have been lost in 14 years.

5. Wasted Water

Water is a renewable source on the Earth, but it is often wasted. Inefficient practices such as flood irrigation and wet cooling for thermal power plants use more water than necessary. 

What’s more, we continue to pollute water without improving it. About 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is discharged back into nature without treatment or reuse. 

In many countries, clean drinking water is cheaper than the costs for wastewater treatment and disposal, so the level of water disposal continues to increase.

6. Improper Pricing

All over the world, the price of water is meager. This price does not reflect the actual total cost of the service, from transportation using the infrastructure to its maintenance and disposal. 

This improper pricing results in ineffective water allocation and underinvestment in new water infrastructure and technologies for more efficient water use. 

Companies or governments have no incentive to invest in cost-effective water-saving technologies when water prices are much lower. 

If water prices reflect the actual cost of services, people can have incentives to use water efficiently. Unfortunately, poor people often have to pay more to get water, which is increasingly hampered.

Solution

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Water quality rally in Canada (source)

There are simple and cost-effective ways to deal with this problem. Desalination is one of them, and it has been a priority option in the Middle East. 

Another is the transposition of water from rivers, which has a considerable environmental impact when carried out on a large scale. Integrated and universal water use planning is often the best idea.

An important aspect is to discourage urbanization in areas with low rainfall and low storage capacity. Another is to charge an intense but expressive amount for water to raise awareness, as was done in Israel and Australia.

But the most straightforward solutions have been the most effective. A seemingly simple initiative such as planting trees on earthen soils in cities can restore underground water tables.

And the small sensors scattered throughout the urban structure can help monitor the usage and habits of the population, find leaks in distribution systems and measure air humidity.

It can determine whether or not it is necessary to activate the public sprinklers that irrigate the squares.

Conclusion 

Governments, businesses, universities, and communities worldwide are starting to recognize the water problems and take action. 

Every year, new solutions are produced, such as using wastewater for energy, implementing restoration to irrigate dry topography, and better monitoring groundwater levels. 

However, even the best solutions don’t happen by themselves. Political will and public pressure are as important a resource as clean water to ensure a sustainable future for all of us.