Category Archives: Water Access

Solution&Debate: Increasing Foreign Aid on Water to Improve Water Availability

Many international organizations and charities are involved in water-related aid programs, including the World Bank, the European Union, and UN agencies. The United Nations declared 2013 as the “International Year of Water Cooperation,” but for any chance of cooperation, the United States must continue foreign aid to improve reliable access water. Most of the organizations funding support come through grants and loans. Moreover, there are many bilateral arrangements between developed and developing world countries. Over the last few years, there were an average total annual aid budget of $3.5 billion for water-related projects, with bilateral arrangements contributing the lion’s share ($2.25 billion). The World Bank was the largest single donor ($1.9 billion). It mainly works with African, Caribbean and Pacific developing countries, and helps to define and to implement water policies focusing on sustainable water management. These institutions provide grant aid or loans for development projects, support bilateral programs and transfer knowledge and technology.

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) has estimated that $180 billion per year is necessary in order to ensure adequate water supplies (water treatment, supply infrastructure and irrigation) in developing countries. This is a doubled amount of the present level of investment. Many developing countries clearly do not have the resources or money to cover these costs. Moreover, there is no single aid government or agency that can provide all funds.[1]

Foreign aid and assistance to improve access to water is both a strategic investment and a moral imperative. However, some argue that aid makes the countries more dependent. Even though drinking water is a basic human need, helping those countries with money make them weaker and consequently, they won’t become self-reliant and will be more dependent on funds.

There are some empirical data shows that aid on water is positive. In the Journal on Globalization and Health report (2011), they researched the relationship between official development assistance and changes in access to water sanitation. The result shows that the aid was effective since the establishment of the MDG (Millennium Development Goals). Countries receiving official assistance are 4 to 18 times more likely to have access to improved water supply than countries without aids.

Although aid is not an ultimate cure or solution in developing countries, cutting aid would cause more harm. Thus, there needs to be further cooperations among countries and organizations so that the developing countries can have a sustainable access to clean water. [2]






In order to increase the availability of access to clean water, lots of organizations, charities and activists are involved in water aid programs. However, one important question arises: will increasing access to clean water resolve the problem of unequal access to water? I don’t think so. Simply installing new sanitation facilities, latrines and clean water in villages, schools and households are not enough. It is essential that they be used properly. Even if they have an easy access to water, there is a possibility that the benefits of having water can be reduced. For example, if people do not wash their hands after going to the toilet, there is a possibility that they are susceptible to disease even if it is a clean and sanitary latrine. Also, if communities do not know how water becomes polluted, then the newly installed water sources will soon become unusable. Without education on water and hygiene, as well as maintenance of water and sanitation facilities, people and communities many not see the benefits they expect from them. Thus, in order to gain the full benefits of safe water and sanitation, people need knowledge and education.

Issues: Uneven distribution of World’s available freshwater supply


The world’s available freshwater supply is not evenly distributed throughout the world, due to wide variations in seasonal and annual precipitation.

For example, Asia accounts for 60% of global population but comprises only 36% of global freshwater resources.  In Latin America, however, there are 25% of freshwater resources where there is only 6% of population.[1]

In the developing world, most of freshwater supply comes in the form of seasonal rains. One example is monsoons in Asia. Such rains often times run off too quickly for efficient use. India, for example, gets 90% of its rainfall during the summer monsoon season. Overall rainfall other than monsoon season is very low. Many developing countries can use no more than 20% of their potentially available freshwater resources, because of the seasonal nature of water supply.

Furthermore, in developing countries, the foremost reason of difficulties in access to adequate water supplies is the depletion of traditional sources, such as wells and seasonal rivers. Access to water is worsened by cyclical shortages in times of drought, inefficient irrigation practices, or lack of resources to invest to meet demand.

The International Water Management Institute estimates that 26 countries, including 11 in Africa, can be described as water scarce.

The growing pressure of human activities compounds the scarcity of freshwater; people exert on available resources. The global water crisis due to the combination of rapid population growth, the pollution, destruction of freshwater resources, and as I mentioned before, the climate change. All of these factors affect the hydrological cycle and consequently water availability. However, there is an irony that the scarcity of water is felt primarily by the poor and not by the rich. Uneven distribution of water is also affected by the sharing of resources. Growing population for a limited resource cannot solely explain inequity in access to water around the world. Often times, there is a conflict of corporate control over water resources. For example, in Metro Manila, the private companies hiked water rates by 357.5% and 414.5% between August 1997 and January 2007. They took over the MWSS (Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System). With such a huge increase in the price of water, many poor families could not afford water services.[2]

More than the issue of overpopulation, pollution, and climate change. the imminent global water shortage lies with a structural issue. Due to globalization and its emphasis on market forces, it defines how societies should use and manage their water resources.

Propose: Access to Clean Drinking Water is Human Right

Perhaps most of the people in the world have an easy access to water, but not all of them have an access to “clean, safe, sufficient and affordable” water. Water shortages are considered as 3rd generation right. 3rd generation rights include self-determination and a host of normative expressions whose status as human rights is controversial at present: right to development, the right to peace, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to intergenerational equity. Clean water is included in the right to a healthy environment.[1]

Right to water is global human rights

“Right to water” is not pertain to specific groups or individuals. Water is essential for life, health and dignity; thus, right to water pertains to every human being in the entire world. But we can certainly take a look at specific individuals or groups who lack the basic necessities. Countries like Africa, South East Asia, Middle East Asia and Latin America. Laws and policies should provide special focus on vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as persons living in informal settlements.

Who defines Right to water

In 20102, the UN General Assembly recognized access to water and sanitation as a human right. According to OHCHR, the right to water in international human rights law requires States to “ensure everyone’s access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses, defined as water for drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, and personal and household hygiene. These obligations also require States to progressively ensure access to adequate sanitation, as a fundamental element for human dignity and privacy, but also to protect the quality of drinking-water supplies and resources.”[2] At the 1997 United Nations Water Conference, this concept of basic water requirements as fundamental human needs was first established. Through this Action Plan, regardless of people’s stage of development and their SES conditions, they have the right to have an access to a quality drinking water.

Debates around Right to water

In spite of the UN’s 2012 resolution on the human right to water, there is a debate going on how useful a rights approach really is. Although people have identified water as a human right, people keep asking whether the state is the principal duty-bearer and will it improve access to water for communities that need water? People argue how water should be governed. On one side, people argue that economic valuation and full cost recovery is the best way to conserve and appropriately distribute water with the minimum government involvement. This point of view suggests that water, as a human right, will not improve services and access. On the other side of the people argue that water is indeed a human right and is one of the shared commons that should not be bought and sold for economic profit. They argue that market valuation led to the failures of governance and made huge gaps in service provision to the poor.[3]


Although UN has recently announced advancements of MDG targets on water and sanitation, there are still 2.6 billion people who do not have access to water and sanitation. This clearly shows that there are some challenges in implementing and promoting “rights to water.” It is hard for governments to implement such a significant set of rights. A budgetary constraint is one reason and inclusion and participation of non-state actors (such as NGOs, water service companies) are also another factor.


Problem: Access to Safe Drinking Water

How serious is our water challenge?

There is no doubt that water is essential for life. No one can survive without water, as it is essential for life. However, access to clean water continues to be a major problem in developing countries.

Can you believe the fact that children in Africa die every 19 seconds because of water-related diseases? Everyone knows drinking unsanitary water can cause health problems; however, drinking contaminated water causes so many problems other than health problems. In Periphery countries like Africa, drinking water is not served by government sanitation system; rather, their source of water is exposed to bacteria and germs, which causes numerous diseases. People from Africa have to walk an average distance of six kilometers in order to collect water. What is more surprising is that the water they collect are not clean; most of the water is polluted by animal waste. Also, the weight of water that women carry on their head is commonly 40 pounds, which is equivalent to an airport luggage allowance. Likewise, more than 790 million people around the world do not have access to safe water and their lives are in danger. The only solution to these problems is to provide clean water, as clean water can bring substantial changes. According to the UN (United Nations), water and sanitation can prevent at least 10% of the global disease burden. By providing clean water to the people who do not have an access to safe water, children can use their time to attend school, and adults can work and take care of their children, rather than on collecting and transporting water.


What does sustainable access to safe drinking water mean?

Globally, water is available in abundance. The problem is not with the amount of water available; instead, the problem lies with lack of access to safe drinking water. Then what does it mean to have an access to safe drinking water? According to WHO and UNICEF, the definition of safe drinking water is:

  1. Drinking water is water used for domestic purposes, drinking, cooking and personal hygiene
  2. Access to drinking water means that the source is less than 1 kilometer away from its place of use and that it is possible to reliably obtain at least 20 liters per member of a household per day
  3. Safe drinking water is water with microbial, chemical and physical characteristics that meet WHO guidelines or national standards on drinking water quality [1]

The tiny amount of fresh water is available for human consumption throughout the world. In developing countries, the condition in which water is purified is inadequate.

Why is water access a global issue?

There is a limited amount of freshwater on Earth available for our growing population to use. The balance between human demand and availability is precarious. There are increasing demands on the world’s water supply. Population growth, rising living standards, water-intensive agriculture and economic development are using water faster than it can be replenished. In addition, freshwater resources are in jeopardy due to increasing pollution and climate change.

What are the consequences of hard access to clean water?

Water is essential to our lives. Without water, we can’t drink nor bathe. For most of us, the supply of water seems to be endless. Throughout the world, however, millions of people must walk for hours to collect water. Here are some consequences of not having an access to clean water.

  1. 780 million people in the world do not have access to safe water and it is more than 21/2 times the United States population. 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation. This is roughly 35% of the world’s population. (WHO/UNICEF)[2]
  2. Lack of access to clean water kills around 700,000children every year from diarrhea. It is almost 2,000 children a day. (WHO)[3]
  3. Women spend 20o million hours each day globally collecting water. (WHO)[4]
  4. Lack of clean water is responsible for more deaths in the world than any war. (UNDP)[5]
  5. An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day. (UNDP)[6]
  6. Just $25 enables one person to access a lasting supply of safe water. (WaterAid)

Why isn’t safe-water technology more widespread?

Although there are numerous technologies and foundations that help to increase an access to clean water, still many of the countries in the world do not have an easy access to water. According to a WHO report, there are three factors:

  1. Supply does not meet consumer preferences: products such as chemical disinfectants that meet public health objectives, but do not address user preferences for convenience, taste, safety and aspirational quality.
  2. Inadequate consumer awareness: there are limited understanding of the need to treat water and uncertainty about how to do so.
  3. Inadequate distribution and financing: failure of conventional supply chains to reach the target population with effective, affordable, and desirable water-treatment products and to provide financing to cover their up-front cost.[7]

For example, Africa has the greatest problem with lack of water. This is because the continent cannot effectively utilize its resources. Every year in Africa, approximately 4 trillion cubic meters of water is available, yet only 4% of is being used. People lack the technical knowledge and financial resources that are needed to access their water supplies.

[2] World Health Organization (WHO). (2008). Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits, and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health; Updated Table 1: WSH deaths by region, 2004.

[3] Estimated with data from Diarhhoea: Why children are still dying and what can be done. UNICEF, WHO 200

[4] Estimated with data from: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. (2010). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water, 2010 Update; World Health Organization (WHO). (2004). Evaluation of the Costs and Benefits of Water and Sanitation Improvements at the Global Level.

[5] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2006). Human Development Report 2006, Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis

[6] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2006). Human Development Report 2006, Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis

[7] Clasen, T. 2009. Scaling Up Household Water Treatment among Low-Income Populations. Geneva: World Health Organization.