Today much of the world faces a global safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene crisis. In contrast to easy access to taps and toilets across the United States, one out of every eight people worldwide lacks safe drinking water and two out of every five people lack adequate sanitation.
World Water Day is held every March 22. Recognized by the United Nations and the global community, World Water Day reminds us that much of the world still faces a global water, sanitation and hygiene crisis, and that it is our urgent obligation to act.
A coalition of diverse US-based groups is calling for increased commitments by the US government and private citizens to reduce poverty, disease and hunger by helping to improve sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation for many millions around the world.
Water, sanitation & hygiene programs are important in their own right, but they also yield results across multiple sectors, making this investment one of the smartest in tight economic times. Communities with safe drinking water and adequate sanitation see tangible progress in children’s health, school attendance, and local economic development. In addition, many key water, sanitation and hygiene solutions are cost-effective: every $1 invested in water, sanitation and hygiene improvements returns on average $8 in increased economic productivity and averted healthcare costs.
Investments in water, sanitation and hygiene are working, but there is a long way to go. Significant progress has been made globally towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water. The world is on track to meet the MDG targets for water, and in sub-Saharan Africa access to safe drinking water has improved 22% since 1990.
However, many of the most vulnerable countries remain underserved. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is home to 40% of those without safe drinking water, with at least 15 countries in the region not on track to meet the MDG target. Even more startling, nearly 40% of the world’s population lives without access to adequate sanitation and only a handful of developing countries are on track to meet the MDG target.
What Should Be Done?
US support for water, sanitation and hygiene has produced demonstrable results in thousands of communities around the world.
Solutions include digging wells and boreholes, harvesting rainwater, protecting springs, water filtering and purification, educating families about easy hygiene methods like hand washing and building safe and affordable latrines. Sustainability is key: programs must be implemented in a fashion that is sustainable on a local level, in technical, financial, social, and environmental terms. Integrating simple and cost-effective water, sanitation and hygiene solutions into child survival, health, and nutrition programs can dramatically decrease both child mortality and long-term developmental problems caused by the most common child killers • diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition.
We encourage decision-makers to target US funding to the countries and communities most in need. Helping to provide access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation in those communities will also ensure progress toward related goals: improved health, economic productivity, environmental sustainability, and better educational outcomes.
The needs are great, and solutions exist today. Today’s investments in global water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives are working. Around the world, successful models for replication exist. While working towards long-term change in infrastructure, capacity building and health systems, the US government and other donors should prioritize funding and implementation for programs that can deliver packages of cost-effective, sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene interventions available today.
About the Coalition for World Water Day
A diverse coalition of safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, health and environmental organizations has come together for World Water Day 2012. Its goal is to raise awareness and call for stronger commitments and more robust action to ensure universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The 2012 coalition includes Action Against Hunger, Africare, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, Church World Service, Conservation International, Earth Day Network, Emory University, FHI 360, Foundation Center Global Soap Project, Global Water Challenge, Helen Keller Institute, Improve International, Innovations for Poverty Action, Lions Club International, Living Water International, Millennium Water Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, PATH, Plan, Procter & Gamble, PSI, Save the Children, Tetra Tech, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, The Nature Conservancy, WASH Advocates, WASRAG, WaterAid, Water and Sanitation Program, Water For People, Water.org, and World Vision.