10 things you didn't know about water

The world is not yet on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6: Access to safe water and sanitation for all.

By Philippa Lysaght
A girl drinks water from a tap
UNICEF/UN0211984/Noorani

06 July 2018

Water is life. Without water, children simply cannot survive. Without basic toilets, entire communities live with human waste in their environment. Without taps and soap for handwashing, diseases spread rapidly. Young children are particularly vulnerable, and water and sanitation related diseases remain among the leading causes of death in children under five. When hospitals and health care centres do not have running water, toilets or soap, they can become disease factories. At the time of birth, this can be a matter of life or death for both mother and baby.

As world leaders meet in New York this week to discuss progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 6 on water and sanitation, we look at 10 facts about water that might surprise you.

1. There is a water crisis and it’s happening now.
2.1 billion people do not have access to safe water.

2. Water needs to be more than clean, it must be “safe”.
For water to be safe it must be accessible at home, available when needed, and free from contamination.

3. Without safe sanitation, diseases spread rapidly.
4.5 billion people do not use safe sanitation, meaning a toilet that separates human waste from contact, and a system to ensure that the waste is safely disposed.

4. Open defecation is one of the clearest signs of inequality.
Over 892 million people practice open defecation, meaning they go out on the side of the road, in fields or bushes.

5. Children are most at risk.
Every day over 700 children die from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water and sanitation.

 

A boy washes in Balukhali
UNICEF/UN0219073/Modola
A boy washes in Balukhali, part of the refugee camp sheltering over 800,000 Rohingya refugees, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
Sandy Chuol, 10, heads home with the jerrycan of clean water
UNICEF/UN0215532/Rich
Sandy Chuol, 10, heads home with the jerrycan of clean water that she collected at a UNICEF-supported water point, in war-ravaged Malakal Town, South Sudan.akal, dévastée par la guerre, au Soudan du Sud.

 

6. Babies are being born in dirty conditions.
Around 35% of hospitals and health centres do not have running water and soap for handwashing; 19% do not have basic toilets.

7. Children are missing out on an education.
When children have to walk long distances to collect water, they often miss out on a chance to go to school. When schools don’t have toilets, girls have nowhere to manage their menstruation and may opt to skip school instead.

8. Climate change is making it worse.
The changing climate is destroying, drying up and contaminating water sources. By 2040, 600 million children will live in areas of water stress, unless we act now.

9. In conflicts and crises, children are twice as likely to lack access to water.
There are around 117 million people in urgent need of safe water in emergencies around the world.

10. We must do more.
The world is not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 6: access to safe water and sanitation for all. At the High Level Political Forum, UNICEF is calling on governments to reaffirm their commitments to improve water, sanitation and hygiene access; strengthen partnerships with national statistics offices to improve collection, analysis and disaggregation of data, and reporting progress on national action.

 

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UNICEF and the SDGs