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Social Issues
Nearly 1 In 10 People Don’t Have Clean Water, As The UN Marks World Water Day
March 22, 2013
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Generally speaking, we take water for granted in this country. In most parts of Canada, we turn on the tap - we get water and it's clean.

If the tap stops working, we call a plumber.

And if the water isn't clean - or worse, it's contaminated and people get sick or die - it's a national story, as it was with Walkerton, Ontario.

But in many parts of the developing world, it's a different story - which is the point of World Water Day.

Held every March 22, it's an initiative by the United Nations to get clean drinking water and sanitation to people who need it most.

And today is the 20th anniversary, with this year's theme being "co-operation."

With the world's population closing in on seven billion, the demand for fresh water keeps growing.

The UN says 783 million people - nearly 1 in 10 - don't have access to clean or safe water, and 2.5 billion people don't have proper sanitation.

If you take into account climate change, political unrest, and armed conflicts - the crisis is even more urgent and the domino effect is huge.

Everything from poverty to global development, from women's rights to infant mortality has some connection to water.

Here's a video message for World Water Day from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

For example, water-related diseases kill more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. It's the second biggest killer of children under five.

To put it another way, more than 3,000 children under five die each day from diarrhea, cholera, dysentry, and other water-related illnesses. The UN says a lack of clean water is the main reason why.

As well, poor sanitation and dirty water costs sub-Saharan Africa 5 per cent of its GDP a year, which is more than it receives in aid. And experts say a lack of fresh water could lead to major food shortages down the road.

There is some encouraging news. In the past 20 years, two billion people have gained access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.

And as UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the Associated Press, "If we do water and sanitation right, we can have a great improvement on other goals."

Al Jazeera put together a photo collection that shows the effect a lack of fresh water has around the world.

A girl protests about the danger of walking long distances to find water in Jeldu Woreda, Ethiopia - photo: James McCauley/WaterAid

At the start of the dry season, villagers from Ourare Alaye Tem in northern Mali travel four-days into Burkina Faso for water - photo: Layton Thompson/WaterAid

Women in Sylhet, Bangladesh use dirty water to cook, clean and drink - photo: GMB Akash/Panos/WaterAid

On the other hand, when people have access to clean water, the benefits and opportunities are enormous.

Villagers in Bokola, Malawi celebrate as their community hits fresh water - photo: Jason Larkin/WaterAid

Local people operate a water kiosk in Miandrivizo, Madagascar - photo: Anna Kari/WaterAid

You can see more photos here.

As Metro UK points out, "children are able to go to school instead of spending the day trudging to the nearest well; the health of the entire area improves and it becomes easier to grow, produce and care for livestock which can then be sold at local markets."

A British charity WaterAid is just one of many organizations trying to change things. You can check out a list of others here.

WaterAid is installing water pumps in India, Bangladesh and other parts of the world, and training local people in how to fix them.

As Metro reports, "before the scheme launched, there were more than 4,000 broken pumps in the district, but the newly-trained mechanics have now fixed more than 300, turning water back on for 30,000 people."

"Life before we got clean water from this pump was different," said 15-year-old Nandini Hayarban.

"The water was very dirty, especially in the monsoon season, when we would get very ill with fever and diarrhoea. When the clean water came, I was so happy. We are healthier and cleaner."

The UN also wants to turn the world into what it calls an "open defecation-free zone."

"Here is a silent disaster which needs to have attention," UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told Al Jazeera.

The reality is, hundreds of millions of people go to the toilet out in the open because they don't have access to a toilet.

As Eliasson said, "Can you imagine the lack of dignity around this act, the risk of being raped if you are a woman or a girl going out at night, but also the health risk for personal health and the environment?"

In 2000, the UN set a goal to reduce the number of people who don't have fresh water by half and do it by 2015.

As it stands right now, that target might be reached by 2075.

Related stories

Scientists Say Water Shortages Could Force World To Go Vegetarian

It's World Toilet Day: More Than 2 Billion People Around The World Don't Have A Clean, Safe Toilet


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