Access to Clean and Safe Water – THE FACTS

Access to Clean and Safe Water – THE FACTS

There are over 100,000 broken down water projects in Africa alone – Barak Bruerd, Director of African Programs, Blood:Water Mission

The REAL Water Crisis

Access to clean and safe water in the developing world is the number one issue that should concern all of us. Communities with clean and safe water means less need for hospital beds and medicine, improved sanitation, education, and a whole host of other solutions.

The water issue is a much larger issue in the developing world than even here in the US.  Here, the debate rages on about BPA in plastic bottles, stainless vs aluminum, drinking fountains in public schools, bottled water manufactured by the soda giants, and whether flouride in our cities’ water supplies will have a harmful affect on our children and grandchildren. Sure, these are important, but there are communities that would gladly take on this debate in exchange for the daily struggle to gain access to clean and safe water for their families.

The data is overwhelming. There are many great organizations doing great things to help the developing world get access to clean and safe water. As part of my nonprofit work, I had decided to do some of the legwork and put as many water-related facts in one place, completely sourced, for you to read, understand, and act. I don’t want to be a late-night infomercial, I simply want to help shed light on this issue and hopefully inspire people to act.

Note: All of the sources below reference particular websites, with associated bibliographies and sourcing within each particular site.

The following data is courtesy of

  • Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease
  • More people have cell phones than access to a decent toilet
  • 3.6 Million people die each year from water-related diseases
  • Less than 1% of the World’s fresh water is readily accessible for direct human use
  • Nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe water

In rural Ethiopia, women and children walk up to six hours to collect water. Most people collect water from shallow, unprotected ponds which they share with animals. Other people collect water from shallow wells. Both of these sources are subject to contamination as rain water washes waste from surrounding areas into the source. The jugs women use to carry water back to the village weigh up to 40 pounds! Often, young children are left at home while their mother and older siblings collect water and their fathers work.

In the last 20 years, Ethiopia has experienced recurring droughts followed by food shortages and famines. During times of drought, water-related diseases are rampant. Surface water sources such as springs and ponds dry up. Remaining water sources are heavily contaminated by environmental waste, such as human and animal excreta, which is washed in when it does rain. The stagnant water serves as a breeding place for mosquitoes.

In times of drought, there is often not enough water available for people to bathe regularly. As a result, community members, especially children, suffer from scabies and eye infections. During these times, in an effort to conserve water, hand-washing after defecation or before eating is rarely practiced. Diarrheal and water-related diseases are among the principle causes of death in young children.

  • The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
  • People living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day
  • Diarrhea remains the second leading cause of death among children under five globally. Nearly one in five child deaths – about 1.5 million each year – is due to diarrhea. It kills more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
  • 88% of cases of diarrhea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene.
  • 90% of all deaths caused by diarrheal diseases are children under 5 years of age, mostly in developing countries.
  • It is estimated that improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrhea-related deaths in young children by more than one-third. If hygiene promotion is added, such as teaching proper hand washing, deaths could be reduced by two thirds. It would also help accelerate economic and social development in countries where sanitation is a major cause of lost work and school
  • Over 50 percent of all water projects fail and less than five percent of projects are visited, and far less than one percent have any longer-term monitoring.
  • Investment in safe drinking water and sanitation contributes to economic growth. For each $1 invested, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates returns of $3 – $34, depending on the region and technology.
  • Investment in drinking-water and sanitation would result in 272 million more school attendance days a year. The value of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, would amount to US$ 3.6 billion a year.

The following data is courtesy of Charity:Water

  • Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren’t strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.
  • 90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are of children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation
  • In Africa alone, people spend 40 billion hours every year just walking for water. Women and children usually bear the burden of water collection, walking miles to the nearest source, which is unprotected and likely to make them sick.
  • Time spent walking and resulting diseases keep them from school, work and taking care of their families.
  • Along their long walk, they’re subjected to a greater risk of harassment and sexual assault. Hauling cans of water for long distances takes a toll on the spine and many women experience back pain early in life.
  • With safe water nearby, women are free to pursue new opportunities and improve their families’ lives. Kids can earn their education and build the future of their communities
  • In Africa alone, the overall economic loss due to lack of safe water and sanitation is $28 billion, or about 5% of GDP. In areas where gathering water is impossible, small-scale private water distributors charge full market prices, forcing the poorest households to spend up to 11% of their income on life’s most basic need. Even this water is most likely contaminated if it has been collected from unprotected rivers or ponds.


Inspired to act? Want to give or volunteer? I encourage you to connect with any of the above organizations or to participate in two specific water projects in Africa in 2012 and 2013, contact the Ripple Project at International Assistance Program to see how you can get involved and help bring clean and safe water to the developing world.


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