In a world where water is the most abundant resource, and where technological advancements have made it possible to successfully filtrate the most contaminated water, why are one in three people still without access to clean drinking water? According to the World Health Organization almost one million people will die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes, and every two minutes a child dies from a water-related disease. This means in the time it takes to read this article at least one child will die from an entirelypreventable cause. This fact should devastate everyone, but what is even more devastating is that it does need to be this way. In fact, there is absolutely no reason in modern society that newborns should die from infections caused by lack of safe water and unclean environments, why children in Flint Michigan should still be boiling their water, and why one in three schools are still unable to provide clean water to their students. This is the unacceptable reality for so many, and why reform is necessary.
One of the most important steps in addressing the global water crisis has always been acknowledging access to clean water as a basic human right. In 2002 the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 on the right to water. This states that, “the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.” This was a major step, and in 2010 the United Nations General Assembly officially recognized the right to water and sanitation as a basic human right that should be guaranteed to all. What this important recognition means is that nations who do not guarantee access to clean drinking water are guilty of human rights violations.
It is too easy to think of clean water as only an issue in rural under-developed areas; however, that could not be further from the truth. Some of the most “advanced” nations around the globe have still not guaranteed their citizens clean drinking water, and the effects are devastating. These advanced nations often set the tone for the rest of the globe, and if they are not taking the clean water crisis seriously, why would anyone else. It was only a few years ago that the world watched as the Flint water crisis came to light. Where children began suffering the devastating affects of lead poisoning because their government failed to ensure them their basic human right to clean drinking water. If the government knowingly allows or participates in the pollution of water resources, then they should be fully prepared to provide their citizens with clean alternatives, and that is where they have failed.
In Flint the crisis began when the city’s drinking water source was switched to save money. The water from the new source was not properly treated and damaged old pipes. This damage caused lead to leak into the drinking water. According to a study by Columbia University School of Public health, this switch which was done to save money will end up having the opposite effect. Flint is expected to spend upwards of $395 million is social costs, and nationally lead exposure costs the US $4.5 billion in lost economic productivity, welfare use, and criminal justice system expenditures each year. When discussing how to save human lives the financial cost should never be the biggest concern; however, in reference to the water crisis the global community cannot afford to ignore the problem.
According to The World Bank, “Countries need to quadruple spending to $150 billion a year to deliver universal safe water and sanitation to reduce childhood disease and deaths while boosting economic growth.” While $150 billion may seem like quite a large number, it is nothing compared to the bill that would be required if nothing is done. In fact, universal access to basic water and sanitation would result in $18.5 billion in economic benefits each year from avoided deaths alone. It is also estimated that for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, it would provide a $4 economic return from lower health costs, more productivity, and fewer premature deaths. Investing in clean water is not only essential for human rights, but it is also one of the most cost-effective health interventions.
The importance of clean water cannot be overstated. It is a basic human right that needs to be guaranteed to all people. This is not just a global water crisis. It is a global economic crisis, health crisis, and human rights violation that has robbed billions of people of their dignity and opportunity. There is no excuse for this crisis having gone on as long as it has, and the global community must make it the top priority and address it before more lives are unnecessarily lost.
References Columbia University. “Flint Lead Crisis Adds up to $395 Million in Social Costs.” ScienceDaily. Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, August 8, 2016. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160808163446.htm. Hares, Sophie. “The Cost of Clean Water: $150 Billion a Year, Says World Bank.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, August 28, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-water-health/the-cost-of-clean-water-150-billion-a-year-says-world-bank-idUSKCN1B812E. UNDESA. “International Decade for Action 'Water for Life'.” United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations, May 29, 2014. https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml. UNICEF. “1 In 3 People Globally Do Not Have Access to Safe Drinking Water – UNICEF, Who.” UNICEF, November 2, 2021. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/1-3-people-globally-do-not-have-access-safe-drinking-water-unicef-who. United Hands Relief. “Water & Sanitation.” UHR. United Hands Relief and Development,March 23, 2021. https://www.uhrelief.org/water-sanitation/. UN News. “Every Dollar Invested in Water, Sanitation Brings Four-Fold Return in Costs.” United Nations. United Nations, November 14, 2014. https://news.un.org/en/story/2014/11/484032-every-dollar-invested-water-sanitation-brings-four-fold-return-costs-un.