Access to water and sanitation is internationally recognized human right, however more than two billion people are still deprived of this right.

The latest United Nations World Water Development Report, Leaving No One Behind, explores the symptoms of exclusion and investigates ways to overcome inequalities.

According to the report collective determination to move forward and efforts to include those who have been left behind in the decision making process could make this right a reality.

Gilbert F. Houngbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, says the numbers speak for themselves. “As the Report shows, if the degradation of the natural environment and the unsustainable pressure on global water resources continue at current rates, 45% of global Gross Domestic Product and 40% of global grain production will be at risk by 2050,”he explains.

“Poor and marginalised populations will be disproportionately affected, further exacerbating already rising inequalities […] The 2019 Report provides evidence of the need to adapt approaches, in both policy and practice, to address the causes of exclusion and inequality,” he adds.

Wide disparities between the rich and the poor

These figures hide significant disparities. On a global scale, half of the people who drink water from unsafe sources live in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 24% of the population have access to safe drinking water, and 28% have basic sanitation facilities that are not shared with other households.

Significant discrepancies in access exist even within countries, notably between the rich and the poor. In urban areas, the disadvantaged housed in makeshift accommodations without running water often pay 10 to 20 times more than their neighbours in wealthier neighbourhoods for water of similar or lesser quality purchased from water vendors or tanker trucks.

Furthermore almost half of people drinking water from unprotected sources live in Sub- Saharan Africa, where the burden of collecting water lies mainly on women and girls, many of whom spend more than 30 minutes on each journey to fetch water.

Good economic sense

Without safe, accessible water and sanitation, these people are likely to face multiple challenges, including poor health and living conditions, malnutrition, and lack of opportunities for education and employment.

The Report demonstrates that investing in water supply and sanitation makes good economic sense. The return on investment is high in general and for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in particular, especially when broader benefits such as health and productivity are taken into account.

The multiplier for the return on investment has been globally estimated at two for drinking water and 5.5 for sanitation.

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