In 2015 the United Nations developed an agenda for sustainable development with a total of 17 goals that target areas like poverty, hunger, education, gender equality or economic growth. Goal 6 focuses on access to clean water and sanitation.
Water scarcity is an issue that currently affects 40% of the global population. It's estimated that by 2050, recurring water shortages could affect a quarter of the population.
Who is affected by water scarcity?
Some countries are disproportionally affected by water scarcity:
- Eritrea is the country with the direst water crisis since only 19% of the population has access to clean water.
- Papua New Guinea, Uganda and Ethiopia are countries where just under 40% of the population has access to water.
- India has the largest population without access to clean water with 163 million people affected.
Women and girls are often responsible for collecting water. Water scarcity often translates into missed educational and economic opportunities for them. Households without access to clean water are trapped in a cycle of poverty where time and energy are spent on accessing water.
A lack of access to clean water is often tied to a lack of access to sanitation. There is a global hygiene and health crisis that results in 4,000 children dying each day. Poverty-stricken rural areas are more likely to be affected by this crisis.
The U.N.'s proposed solution
A water infrastructure is a system that supplies households with drinking water, treats polluted water, stores water to prevent shortages and manages environmental resources. There is a global need for developing water infrastructures to address water scarcity and prevent future crises.
The U.N. recommends investing in sustainable projects with a scope that goes beyond water scarcity. Projects should address economic issues, climate change and any other need that is relevant to local communities, such as access to sanitation and health.
Connection with environmental conservation
Goal 6 of the 17 goals includes managing natural resources. The U.N. recommends developing sustainable plans to protect ecosystems that depend on water, like forests, rivers, wetlands or lakes. There is a sense of urgency as more water-based ecosystems disappear or are threatened, and the U.N. recommends taking action by 2020.
What about the U.S.?
The Flint water crisis has drawn attention to a failing water infrastructure, and it's possible there will be more signs of the aging water infrastructure in the future. It's estimated that 40% of all pipelines are more than 40 years old. The current water infrastructure is underfunded and can't sustain the growing U.S. population in the near future.
There is a need to invest $123 billion a year over the next 10 years to maintain the current infrastructure and upgrade it to achieve a state of good repair across the country. Conservation and managing natural resources are other areas where investments are necessary.
The U.S. is in need of policies and sustainable projects that will maintain and modernize its water infrastructure to address the risks identified in the U.N.'s agenda. However, the growing federal debt will make it difficult to find the funds necessary to developing sustainable projects. It's Up to Us has advocated for more responsible fiscal policies, including addressing the growing federal debt to free up funds that could be used for the issues we will face tomorrow.
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