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Millions of people worldwide are living today with less water than they need, be it in the world’s most prosperous cities or agricultural heartlands. According to the UN, nearly a billion people lack access to basic drinking water. Women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours hauling water every day. More than 800 children under the age of 5 die from diarrhea every day, due to poor water and sanitation. Just 10 countries account for 60% of the world population without access to clean water – 19% of them live in India. So the next time you leave the tap open while brushing your teeth or bathing, remember that 163 million of our fellow countrymen are living without safe water, a resource meant for all. No one should be left behind in accessing and managing the safe water that they need.

  • 2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services.
  • Over half of the global population or 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services.
  • 297,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water.
  • 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress.
  • 90 per cent of natural disasters are weather-related, including floods and droughts.
  • 80 per cent of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.
  • Around two-thirds of the world’s transboundary rivers do not have a cooperative management framework.
  • Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of global water withdrawal.
  • Roughly 75 per cent of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production.

 The right to water

  • One of the most important recent milestones has been the recognition in July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly of the human right to water and sanitation.
  • The Assembly recognized the right of every human being to have access to enough water for personal and domestic uses, meaning between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day.
  • The water must be safe, acceptable and affordable. The water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income. Moreover, the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.

Water and the Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 is to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.
  • The targets cover all aspects of both the water cycle and sanitation systems, and their achievement is designed to contribute to progress across a range of other SDGs, most notably on health, education, economics and the environment.

The UN and Water:

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene:

  • Contaminated water and a lack of basic sanitation are undermining efforts to end extreme poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries.
  • In 2017, 2 billion people worldwide did not have access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines.
  • 673 million people still practised open defecation. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, at least 1.2 billion people worldwide are estimated to drink water that is not protected against contamination from faeces.
  • Even more drink water, which is delivered through a system without adequate protection against sanitary hazards.

Unclean water and child mortality:

  • Unclean water and poor sanitation are a leading cause of child mortality. Childhood diarrhoea is closely associated with insufficient water supply, inadequate sanitation, water contaminated with communicable disease agents, and poor hygiene practices.
  • Diarrhoea is estimated to cause 1.5 million child deaths per year, mostly among children under five living in developing countries.

Improved sanitation and economic benefits:

  • The links between lack of water and sanitation access and the development goals are clear, and the solutions to the problem are known and cost-effective.
  • A 2012 WHO study shows that every US $1 invested in improved sanitation translates into an average global economic return of US $5.5. Those benefits are experienced specifically by poor children and in the disadvantaged communities that need them most.


Natural methods like reforestation and forest conservation, reconnecting rivers to flood plains, wetland restoration and water harvesting will regulate the water supply.

  • Agricultural systems that conserve ecosystem services by using practices such as conservation tillage, crop diversification, legume intensification and biological pest control.
  • The environmental co-benefits of nature-based solutions decrease pressures on land conversion and reduced pollution, erosion and water requirements.
  • Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment can also be a cost-effective and provides adequate supply of water for irrigation and additional benefits that include energy production.
  • Natural and constructed wetlands also biodegrade or immobilise a range of emerging pollutants.
  • Watershed management is another nature-based solution that will spur local economic development, job creation, biodiversity protection and climate resilience.
  • NBS for addressing water availability in urban settlements are of great importance. . Managing water flows through urban landscapes can improve water resources availability.
  • Catchment management outside urban areas, improved recycling of water within urban water cycles, green infrastructure within urban boundaries are some of the Nature based solutions for improving water resources availability.

Way Forward:

  • India’s priority must be:
    • To make our irrigation and water systems amenable to modern concepts.
    • To complete irrigation and water sector reforms.
    • To implement improved water management, governance and regulation practices.
    • Pricing system for water: For making people use water efficiently
  • Bigger program on water efficiency as energy efficiency – Setting standards for water management.
  • Ensuring minimal pollution in both urban areas and industry.
  • Fixing India’s water crisis will need well balanced policies, meticulous strategy and a massive amount of public participation.
  • Sugarcane consumes a disproportionate amount of water and water-stressed regions must make an effort to move away from the crop.
  • Comprehensive restructuring of India’s Central Ground Water Board and the Central Water Commission in order to create a new 21st Century management authority.
  • Right to water should mean a high priority to drinking water.
  • India has so far seen the water sector in terms of irrigation projects or water schemes. We need to balance between our water-needs and that of the river itself.