Billions deprived of the right to water

18 March 2019

Access to water and sanitation is internationally recognized human right. Yet more than two billion people lack even the most basic of services. The latest United Nations World Water Development Report, Leaving No One Behind, explores the symptoms of exclusion and investigates ways to overcome inequalities. The report will be launched in Geneva, Switzerland, on 19 March during the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council, ahead of World Water Day (22 March).

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right and in 2015 the human right to sanitation was explicitly recognized as a distinct right. These rights oblige States to work towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need. Five years later, Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to guarantee sustainable management of, and access to, water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Yet, despite significant progress over the past 15 years, this goal is unreachable for much of the worlds population. In 2015, three in ten people (2.1 billion) did not have access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion people, or six in ten, had no safely managed sanitation facilities. The world is still off track in achieving this important goal.

The numbers speak for themselves. As the Report shows, if the degradation of the natural environment and the unsustainable pressure on global water resources continue at current rates, 45% of global Gross Domestic Product and 40% of global grain production will be at risk by 2050. Poor and marginalized populations will be disproportionately affected, further exacerbating already rising inequalities [] The 2019 Report provides evidence of the need to adapt approaches, in both policy and practice, to address the causes of exclusion and inequality, said Gilbert F. Houngbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Significant discrepancies in access exist even within countries, notably between the rich and the poor. In urban areas, the disadvantaged housed in makeshift accommodations without running water often pay 10 to 20 times more than their neighbours in wealthier neighbourhoods for water of similar or lesser quality purchased from water vendors or tanker trucks.

The right to water, the reports authors explain, cannot be separated from other human rights. In fact, those who are marginalized or discriminated against because of their gender, age, socioeconomic status, or because of their ethnic, religious or linguistic identity, are also more likely to have limited access to proper water and sanitation.

The Report demonstrates that investing in water supply and sanitation makes good economic sense. The return on investment is high in general and for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in particular, especially when broader benefits such as health and productivity are taken into account. The multiplier for the return on investment has been globally estimated at two for drinking water and 5.5 for sanitation.

Coordinated and published by UNESCOs World Water Assessment Programme, the United Nations World Water Development Report is the result of a collaboration between the 32 United Nations entities and the 41 international partners who make up UN-Water. It is published every year on World Water Day.


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