Sunday, 4 September 2011

Not a drop to drink?

We can provide half a billion people with safe drinking water, in the next four years, for just 0.16% of world GDP.

Three things make it enormously difficult to grasp the enormity of that statement-one of the conclusions of the new UN Green Economy Report:

Firstly we have to comprehend half a billion human beings: more than the total population of the USA and about the same as the entirety of the European Union. 

Unsafe drinking waterSecondly we have to truly realise the importance of safe drinking water; a hard task for those of us in the developed world who take it for granted that we can turn on the tap or get a bottle from the fridge, rather than face the choice of dying from thirst or walking miles for a bucket of rancid, disease-ridden water that will leave us bed ridden with parasites, or worse still, cause our child to die of cholera, dysentery or diarrhoea.

Thirdly we need to ask how, with the potential to change so many lives with such a marginal redirection of national funds, we have not already ended water poverty.

One billion people go without clean water - every single day.  Four thousand children die because of this- every single day.  And for less that one quarter of one percent of spending by developed nations, we can halve these statistics by halfway through the decade.

If giving people this lifeline isn’t enough in itself, the knock-on benefits for health, food and economies are tremendous.  Vast burdens will be lifted off rudimentary healthcare systems, more water will be available for growing crops and far more people will be well enough to work.  A recent parliamentary motion led by the campaign group Water Aid notes that investment in clean water provides an eightfold return.

And all this at a drastically low cost for developed states.  In fact, the majority of theMillenium development goals capital needed could be encompassed in the 0.7% overseas aid commitment at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals.  As things currently stand five nations have already met this target, and eleven more are formally dedicated to achieving it by 2015  or earlier.

Still, things aren’t all positive.  Of these eleven several are unlikely to reach the 2015 target in practice, whilst numerous others including the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have not yet set formal schedules to do so.  There are also signs of states shirking their global responsibilities when it comes to clean water: whilst a recent UN General Assembly vote recognised clean water and sanitation as human rights, forty-one states including the UK and USA voted against it, preventing any obligations on their part under existing human rights commitments.

There is clearly much work to be done.  But in can be done.  Indeed, similar feats have been achieved before: between 1990 and 2008, international development secured access to improved drinking water for 1.8 billion people -raising access rates in Asia from 69% to 86%, and doubling the number of those with access in Sub-Saharan Africa.

We all have a part to play, be it lobbying our governments or by putting our own money up front and donating 0.16% to Water Aid or one of the other NGOs dedicated to bringing this basic necessity to those who are currently dying without it.

Together we can halve the number of people without safe drinking water by 2015….beyond that who knows what is possible?

   Clean drinking water for the world

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