Drinking water, a universal right for everyone

Today, 844 million people do not have a basic service for drinking water: they have to walk for over half an hour to get drinking water, they use an unimproved source such as a well or a source used by animals, or they drink surface water from rivers, lakes or canals.

water eau benin
Benin (Mono-Couffo) (c) Stéphane Brabant

For more than 840 million people in the world drinking water is still far from a human right. Every day, they need to walk for hours to fetch water, an often perilous journey for women and girls, preventing them from attending school or holding a job to add to the family income. Moreover, the water they retrieve from rivers and lakes is usually unfit for drinking as these sources are also used by humans for washing and are often polluted by animal faeces. This water is a breeding ground for bacteria. Each year, over 340,000 children under the age of 5 die of diarrhea caused by a lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

Yet, the answer to the problem is simple enough: investing in drinking water facilities provides clear results. Lives are saved, healthcare costs are reduced and country productivity is increased. By creating access to drinking water for everyone, poverty is stifled in its cradle. For those with nearby access to a water point, time for work, school, home and family is no longer a problem.

Then why is it so difficult to implement? A lack of political will at the highest levels; lack of financial investment; rapid population growth; poor management and maintenance of existing installations; local authorities in the South that lack the means and knowhow to create water supplies: these are but a few of the main stumbling blocks.

The Sustainable Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goal for water was to reduce the percentage of people with no access to safe drinking water by half by the year 2015 compared to 1990. As early as 2010, this target was met, however, with some major reservations: the quality of the water is often still questionable and service is not guaranteed.

In September 2015 193 Member States of the United Nations approved the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDG's. SDG 6 is specifically dedicated to water and sanitation. SDG 6 pays attention not only to access to drinking water and basic sanitation, for everyone.  It pays also considerable attention to the prevention of pollution of the water resources, the treatment of wastewater, the increase of rational water use and the restoration of aquatic ecosystems.