March 22 is World Water Day, highlighting the importance of clean water, sanitation, and the need for sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme, accelerating change to solve the global water and sanitation crisis, underlines the fact that time is running out on the sixth United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal. In a recent tweet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “The world is woefully off-course to achieve our goal of water and sanitation for all by 2030. Billions of people still don’t have safe water and toilets.”
Indeed, today, about a quarter of the global population does not have safely-managed drinking water services, according to the World Health Organization’s State of the World’s Drinking Water report. This means that over two billion people world wide have no access to clean, fresh drinking water, or proper sanitation.
“Dysfunction throughout the water cycle is undermining progress on all major global issues, from health to hunger, gender equality to jobs, education to industry, disasters to peace,” said the World Health Organization last October. The fact is that investments in water security, sanitation, and hygiene are critical for progress in nearly all aspects of global development.
However, at the most basic level, this is not just about progress, it is about saving and improving lives. Every year, around 830,000 people die of water-related diarrheal illnesses. Many, if not most, of them are children under the age of five. With reliable access to safe water and sanitation, nearly all these deaths could have been prevented.
For its part, the United States in October released its Global Water Strategy for the five-year period beginning with fiscal year 2023. Working through the U.S. Agency for International development, the United States Government designated 22 high-priority countries as the primary focus for building a more water-secure world amid ongoing challenges. The United States hopes to meet its five-year goal of directly ensuring that 22 million people gain access to water services and 22 million people gain access to sanitation services, half of them people who never before have had these services.
“Our world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. “Water scarcity is a global problem, and it must be met with a global solution.”