World Water Day 2012

22 Mar 2012

image Both food security and human security depends on water security. Though progress is being made, 783 million people still lack access. (Photo: Adam Roger/UNDP)

Thanks to a concerted global effort, progress is being made, but too many people still struggle without access to clean water and sanitation 

Water sustains and saves lives, but when it is unclean or contaminated, it can be deadly: water-borne infectious diseases are holding back poverty reduction and economic growth in some of the world’s poorest countries. Such diseases account for an estimated 4.1% of the total global burden of disease, and cause about 1.8 million human deaths annually.

Despite the challenges, tremendous progress is being made. More than two billion people gained access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2010, thus achieving the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water - five years ahead of the 2015 target. This means that 89% of the population of the world has access to improved water supplies, up from 76% in the base year of 1990.

“However,” said Jean-Philippe Bayon, a UNDP water expert based in Geneva, “many would argue that though improved, the quality of the water in many places is still not ideal. Plus, some 780 million people, mostly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, still have limited access to clean water, while 2.5 billion, or half of the developing world's population, have inadequate sanitation.”

To tackle these challenges, Alastair Morrison, coordinator of the UNDP’s GoAL-WaSH programme (Governance, Advocacy and Leadership for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), said UNDP is joining forces with governments, civil society, private sector and other development partners to bring about the necessary improvements in water governance to scale up water and sanitation services for the poor. UNDP also takes an active role in the work of UN Water, an interagency mechanism that promotes coherence and coordination of UN system actions.

Much of UNDP’s work in the water sector is centered at the UNDP Water Governance Facility at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), a joint initiative of UNDP and the Swedish Agency for International Development Cooperation. Morrison said that through the Facility, which is active in more than 150 countries, UNDP focuses on coordinating country assistance by UN and other development partners and ensuring the inclusion of water and sanitation in national development planning.

“Through our work we pay special attention to fragile states where water and sanitation challenges are greatest, and where few other organisations are present” he said. “All our projects are managed by resident, national managers, responsive to local needs and available to support policy implementation and community action through GoAL WASH and other UNDP programmes such as the Community Water Initiative and Every Drop Matters.”

In the latter initiative, UNDP joined forces with the Coca-Cola Company to identify and support solutions to water challenges across Eurasia and the Middle East. The Every Drop Matters initiative was designed to increase access to safe drinking water, facilitate the use of environmentally sound industrial technologies, and promote responsible water resource management by outreach and awareness raising activities.

In Russia, for example, the partnership is working with the communities around Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest freshwater lake, to raise awareness of and initiate activities to preserve the fragile ecosystems.

At the recent World Water Forum in Marseille, UNDP, in partnership with the governments of France and Switzerland, and supported by 25 founding institutions from the public, private and non-profit sectors, launched the Platform for Global Water Solidarity, which aims to establish links of decentralized cooperation between local governments and water authorities whereby at least 1% of the revenue spent on water in developed countries goes towards improving access to water and clean sanitation in developing countries.

“The 1% solidarity contribution is not a new idea,” said Bayon, who manages the Platform, “but it is gaining increasing traction. Our goal is to strengthen, upscale and expand the concept in the water sector until the final gap is closed and 100% of the planet’s people can drink a glass of water without putting their lives at risk.”