The United Nations has designated March 22nd World Water Day, as a means of focusing attention on the importance of a clean water supply and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year's theme is "Water Quality: Clean Water for a Healthy World."
Safe drinking water is fundamental to healthy lives and prosperous communities. Every person needs 20 to 40 liters of freshwater per day for drinking, cooking, and sanitation needs alone. Yet some 1.1 billion people world-wide do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. As a result, many people become sick, some lives are shortened, and some die.
Half of the world's hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water-borne diseases. According to the World Health Organization, each year, an estimated 4 billion people get sick with diarrhea as a result of drinking unsafe water. More than 2 million of them die; mostly children under the age of 5, most of them poor, and most of them living in the developing world.
In developing countries, 80 percent of all waste is discharged untreated, often because of lack of regulations and resources. As populations and industry expand, they add to that equation new sources of pollution and increased demand for clean water. Human and environmental health suffers as a result, and future agricultural and drinking water supplies are put at risk.
The United States invests hundreds of millions of dollars every year in water sector activities around the world. The United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation undertake a number of programs to expand access to clean drinking water for those in need, as well as to make more efficient the use of water for food production and economic growth, and work for more sustainable management of watersheds and ecosystems.
The United States is also working to improve water quality by expanding access to sanitation services, helping improve hygiene practices, and finding ways to reduce pollution and improve waste management programs.
The ability of a society to develop is critically dependent on sustainable and sufficient supplies of high-quality water, and good sanitation services and practices. We can help solve the problems, but in the end, change must come from within, with strong investments not only in infrastructure, but also in local governance and capacity building.