Safe, clean water is a human right

6 November 2007

Over one billion people have no clean, safe drinking water; 5,000 children die every day from water that is dirty and contaminated. Peter Tatchell interviews Nick Edmans of the charity WaterAid.

At least 2.2 million people – 1.8 million of them children – are killed each year by water-borne diseases. Every night, 10,000 parents cradle in their arms a child that died from dirty water that day.

A further 2.6 billion people have no secure, hygienic toilet facilities, which breeds disease and contaminates ground water.

For a tiny fraction of global military expenditure, everyone on earth could have infection-free drinking water and millions of lives could be saved.

The clean, safe water that we take for granted in the West, is only a distant dream for one-sixth of the world’s population, especially in Asia and Africa.

Hundreds of millions of people have to trek for miles and hours every day to fetch often foul smelling, diseased drinking water that often causes deadly dysentery, cholera and typhoid.

The lack of safe water supplies often impacts worst on marginal social groups, such as lower castes and ethnic minorities, who may be denied access to water sources and be forced to pay premium prices to private suppliers.

Some tourist developments, such as big hotels and golf courses, result in private companies sinking their own bore holes to extract water from below ground. This sometimes results in the depression of the water table; causing a drying up of wells and consequent water crises in the surrounding villages.

Water shortages and a lack of affordability in developing countries have sometimes been exacerbated by privatisation, which has usually benefited urban dwellers to the neglect of their rural counterparts.

With global warming and rising populations, the prospect looms of future conflicts – even wars – over insufficient fresh water supplies. A foretaste of such disputes can be seen in the friction between Israel and the Palestinian territories over Tel Aviv’s diversion of water from the Jordan River to meet Israeli demand, leaving the West Bank under-supplied.

In a world of immense wealth and plenty, some people have so little – not even the basics like safe, clean water. It is time for a global commitment to redistribute wealth from rich nations to poor ones and to divert investment in weapons and wars to health-sustaining, life-saving development projects.

WaterAid is working to bring fresh, safe drinking water to communities worldwide.

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