Earlier this month the World Health Organization and UNICEF announced the 2015 Millennium Development Goal for safe drinking water coverage, a key development target agreed upon by the international community, was met in 2010, five years ahead of schedule.
In the past two decades, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources. This tremendous achievement is a testament to the collective commitment and effort of government leaders, public and private sector donors and institutions, and local communities and individuals.
WaterCan applauds this wonderful announcement. However, rather than reaching for the champagne glasses and bubbly, this World Water Day on March 22, I will be reflecting on how much work still remains to be done. Consider the following sobering facts:
• The Millennium Development Goal for safe drinking water is not a full-coverage target. Over 780 million people – more than one tenth of the global population – still rely on unsafe drinking water sources such as streams, ponds and unprotected springs. At current rates of progress, in 2015 some 605 million people will continue using such sources.
• There continues to be huge disparities in improved water supply coverage between different regions of the developing world. While coverage in the developing world overall stands at 86 percent, it’s only 61 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. Put another way, more than 330 million Africans still rely on unsafe drinking water. In Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, more than half of the population relies on such sources to meet their daily needs.
• Within countries, major disparities in coverage exist between rural and urban areas. Currently, the total number of people living in rural areas using unsafe water sources is five times greater than in urban areas.
As a consequence, every year 1.5 million children under the age of five in developing countries die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty drinking water and poor sanitation. That’s 4,100 wholly preventable deaths each day. Moreover, people suffering from preventable water and sanitation-related diseases occupy more than half of all hospital beds in the developing world at any given time, creating a tremendous strain on already limited local resources.
WaterCan believes water and sanitation investments are among the most effective ways to meet the health and development needs of local families and communities.
Such investments, for example, promote maternal and child health. Infants and young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of poor water and sanitation conditions. Maternal health is also cause for concern, as many maternal deaths are caused by infections which occur after child birth. Outside a small rural clinic in the highlands of Ethiopia, I spoke to a group of local women. I learned that water normally was not available for cleaning the newborn baby or mother after giving birth. What little water clinic staff did have to use was fetched by family members from a muddy stream several kilometres away.
Water and sanitation investments also support universal primary education. Millions of children miss out on a chance to gain a primary education because they suffer from water and sanitation-related diseases, or are required to fetch water during school hours. Improving water and sanitation conditions in schools creates a more conductive environment for children to learn and teachers to teach. At Uthanya Primary School in rural Kenya where WaterCan supported the construction of water and sanitation facilities, I recall the proud head teacher telling me how the school’s performance rankings in the annual district examinations had subsequently improved from 218th to 196th place.
To help mark this year’s World Water Day I invite you to:
• Learn more about the water and sanitation challenges facing communities in developing countries and to share this information with family and friends.
• Write a letter to Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation, The Honourable Beverly Oda, expressing your support for boosting our foreign aid investments in water and sanitation. She can be reached by regular mail at House of Commons, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
• Consider making a donation to WaterCan through our special 25th anniversary website www.watercan.com/25 or another charity of your choice that supports water and sanitation projects in the world’s poorest countries.
• Registering to participate in Aveda Canada’s fifth annual Walk for Water to benefit WaterCan. The Walk for Water is held in 15 cities across Canada on Earth Day, Sunday, April 22 at 11am. Use the occasion to raise funds or walk to demonstrate your solidarity with women and children in the developing world who must walk for water every day. Learn more at www.iwalkforwater.ca
Best wishes for a wonderful World Water Day.
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