By Barbara Frost
CEO of WaterAid
World Water Day on the 22nd March is a really important moment in time to reflect on what is essential for life – the right to safe water.
In the UK, water is easily accessed. Rarely do we give much thought to the water we use to brush our teeth, to prepare our food, to take our shower. As Chief Executive of WaterAid, where we think about water – and sanitation and hygiene – every day, we are incensed that for too many in the world, these essentials for life are still lacking.
Today alone, almost 900 children will die because of preventable diarrhoeal diseases linked to dirty water, sanitation and poor hygiene and urgent action needs to be taken.
However there is positive news too as much has been accomplished. When I began at WaterAid in 2005, 995 million people in the world did not have access to clean drinking water; today, that number has decreased to 663 million.
More than 1 billion people have come out of extreme poverty in the last 25 years; the number of children under 5 dying from diarrhoea has also decreased, from nearly 1.4 billion a year in 1990, to just under 500,000 25 years later.
Aid and development have saved lives. But there is more to do and new challenges to face.
WaterAid’s new report, ‘Wild Water’, looks at the impact of catastrophic weather events (“wild water”) on rural populations living in poverty, where access to safe water is already difficult.
It’s not yet possible to measure exactly what impact climate change may be having. But we do know that climate change often exults in too much or too little water. Flooding, drought and ruinous storms wipe out homes, fragile infrastructure and livelihoods, with a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest people.
WaterAid works with the world’s poorest communities to help them to become more resilient in times of catastrophe. Deep boreholes are more likely to keep supplying water in times of drought; well-built hygienic latrines are more likely to withstand disasters. And support for government systems to plan ahead for emergencies, including emergency provision of water, sanitation and hygiene, helps communities prepare and reduce the spread of disease following a crisis. Climate finance needs to be aimed at the world’s poorest, where the contributions to carbon emissions have been lowest but the impact will be most felt.
This is the last World Water Day I will mark as WaterAid’s chief executive as after 11 wonderful years I am retiring. I’m so proud of all that has been accomplished.
WaterAid has grown from our beginnings as a small charity established by the commitment of the water industry in 1981 to today transforming the lives of millions of people in 37 countries around the world.
But the challenges of today and those yet to come make the task ahead so much more urgent. Realising the promises of the UN Global Goals on Sustainable Development to end extreme poverty and deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030 requires all of us to step up and get involved.