Water for All

This month, water once again takes center stage at the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City. It is an opportune moment: while much of the world’s attention has been fixed on issues of energy supply and security, hundreds of millions of people in the developing world continue to see the supply and security of fresh water as equally, if not more, important.

Surveys undertaken by the World Bank in developing countries show that, when poor people are asked to name the three most important concerns they face, “good health” is always mentioned. And a key determinant of whether they will have good health or not is access to clean water.

More than a billion people around the world today do not. As a result, they are increasingly vulnerable to poor health. The World Bank estimates that by 2035, as many as three billion people, almost all of them in developing countries, could live under conditions of severe water stress, especially if they happen to live in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. This will cause obvious hardship, but it will also hold back the economic growth needed for millions of people to escape poverty.

In Latin America, about 15% of the population – roughly 76 million people – do not have access to safe water, and 116 million people do not have access to sanitation services. The figures are worse in Africa and parts of Asia.