Water is at the center of economic and social development: it is vital to maintain health, grow food, generate energy, manage the environment, and create jobs. Water availability and management impacts whether poor girls are educated, whether cities are healthy places to live, and whether growing industries or poor villages can withstand the impacts of floods or droughts.

However, 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services and 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. And water-related hazards, including floods, storms, and droughts, are responsible for 9 out of 10 natural disasters. Climate change is expected to increase this risk, in addition to placing greater stress on water supplies.

The Millennium Development Goals helped rally the world around the challenges of water supply and sanitation. Billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and sanitation services since 2000, but these services do not necessarily provide safe water and sanitation. Some 3 in 10 people worldwide lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and 6 in 10 lack safely managed sanitation, according to a new report by WHO and UNICEF.

Of the 2.1 billion people who do not have access to safely managed water, 844 million do not have even a basic drinking water service. Of the 4.5 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation, 2.3 billion still do not have basic sanitation services. As a result, every year, 361,000 children under 5 years of age die due to diarrhea related to poor sanitation and contaminated water, which are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

Water supply and sanitation is just one aspect of the broad­er water agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) build on the success of the last 15 years, while challenging donors and gov­ernments to address issues of water quality and scarcity to balance the needs of households, agriculture, industry, energy, and the envi­ronment over the next 15 years.

Water security is among the top global risks in terms of development impact. It is also an integral part to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The world will not be able to meet the sustainable development challenges of the 21st century — human development, livable cities, climate change, food security, and energy security — without improving management of water resources and ensuring access to reliable water and sanitation services.

Water security remains a challenge for many countries today coping with complex water issues that cut across sectors. Population and economic growth have placed unprecedented pressures on water.

  • Estimates show that with current population growth and water management practices, the world will face a 40% shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030.
  • Today, 70% of global water withdrawals are for agriculture. Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 60% increase in agricultural production and a 15% increase in water withdrawals.
  • The world will need more water for energy generation but already today, over 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity.
  • More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. And the number is growing fast.
  • Groundwater is being depleted at a rate faster than it is being replenished. By 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity. A World Bank report published in May 2016 suggests that water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, spur migration, and spark conflict.

The combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will see demand for water rising exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain. (The World Bank)