the global water crisis

Worldwide, almost 1 billion people do not have access
to clean water and 2.4 billion lack access to safe sanitation.


In industrialized countries, safe drinking water and hygienic living conditions are often taken for granted; many people in developing countries, however, lack adequate water supplies to meet even their basic needs and rely on water contaminated with bacteria, parasites, or toxic pollutants.

Furthermore, access to hygienic sanitation, considered as critical to protecting human health as water supply, is lacking amongst billions of people in the world’s poorest countries. Lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities, combined with poor hygiene practices, places a huge disease burden on millions of people each year. [1]  It is estimated that 56% of diarrheal disease is caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene. [2]  In addition to health impacts, the WASH crisis affects poverty, education, gender equity, and many other areas of development.








The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve the proportion of people without clean drinking water was reached five years ahead of time, in 2010 [3]. While this shows that progress has been made over the past two decades, there are still an overwhelming number of persons, 663 million people, who depend on unimproved water sources, including 159 million which depend only on surface water to use for drinking, cooking and cleaning [4].  While some regions have made progress, others are falling behind; currently, eight out of ten persons who are without access to improved drinking water sources live in rural areas, much like Sub-Saharan Africa, which is one of the regions in the world that did not meet the Millennium Development Goal target 7c for drinking water [1].

Areas without clean water have higher infant and child mortality, higher infections amongst new mothers, and much greater incidence of preventable, water-borne diseases. Diarrheal diseases that result from poor water, sanitation and hygiene affect millions and kill 1.8 million children each year [5].

Studies show that women and children are disproportionately burdened with the chore of collecting water for over 76% of households in developing nations [6]. Millions of women and children in rural areas must travel hour’s every day to fetch water from far off sources, about 26% of their time, carrying it for miles on their head or shoulders. To put this in perspective, in Sub-Saharan Africa, over 40 billion working hours is spent on collecting water, which is equivalent to a year’s worth of labor for the entire workforce of France [6]. This takes away from the time they have for other productive activities, including domestic duties, income generation and education [6].

We believe that access to clean water is a right that should be universal.  The technology and the expertise for providing clean water in rural areas already exists, what is lacking is sufficient investment and prioritization in this area of development. The new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 6 aims to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 [7]. FreshWater Project International’s mission aligns with this goal, looking to bring universal access to all Malawians. 


Preventing water-related disease requires a focus not only on water, but on sanitation and hygiene as well. Sanitation generally refers to the provision of facilities and services that allow for safe disposal of human waste [8]. Approximately 2.4 billion people do not currently use improved sanitation facilities and instead practice open defecation or use facilities that are not sufficient [1]. Improved sanitation facilities can improve human health, generate economic benefits, contribute to human dignity and social development, and help the environment [4].

Improper sanitation facilities and practices allow disease-causing bacteria and pathogens from human excreta to contaminate sources of drinking water. Studies have shown that improved sanitation facilities are at least as effective in preventing diseases as improved water supply [9].

Children under the age of five and the elderly are the most likely to die from water-related diseases, but all ages can be negatively impacted. School age children will miss more school without clean water and improved sanitation. Adolescent girls are more likely to drop out of school if they do not have access to proper sanitation facilities because of the indignity of open defecation. For many, losing out on education can be a life sentence of poverty.

Adults afflicted with water-related diseases are more likely to miss work and lose income. The economic cost of unsafe water and sanitation facilities is valued at $38 billion per year, with 92% of this attributed to sanitation [10].


In addition to improvements in water supply and sanitation facilities, proper hygiene practices are necessary to reduce the spread of water-related diseases.  The simple act of hand washing with soap and water after going to the toilet and before eating can reduce the prevalence of certain types of diarrhea by 33% [11]. Hygiene education and promotion should accompany improvements in water and sanitation in order to achieve the maximum amount of health benefits.

Good hygiene, however, is not always feasible when water is scarce. If a community or school is a long distance from a water source, people are less likely to have sufficient water to meet all of their basic needs.  Insufficient water means that people cannot keep their hands, bodies, and households clean and diseases can spread easily [11]. Because of this, it is important to think of water, sanitation, and hygiene as three interconnected parts of a whole.

[1] U. &. W. H. Organization, "Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water; 2015 Update and MGD Assessment," WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data , Geneva, 2015.

[2] W. H. Organization, "Preventing Diarrhoea through better Water, Sanitation and Hygeine," WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data, Geneva, 2014.

[3] U. Nations, "Millenium Development Goals and Beyond 2015," United Nations, 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed January 2015].

[4] W. H. Organization, "Drinking Water Factsheet No. 391," World Health Organization, June 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed January 2015].

[5] W. H. Organiztion, "Preventing Water Borne Disease," Geneva.

[6] O. N. E. WaterAid, "Water for Women," 2015.

[7] U. Nations, "Sustainable Development Goals," United Nations, 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed January 2015].

[8] W. H. Organization, "Sanitation," World Health Organization, 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed January 2015].

[9] W. H. Organization/UNICEF. [Online]. Available: [Accessed January 2015].

[10] C. G. Mungara, "Sanitation in Africa; Institute of Environment and Water," Turkey, pp. 141-147.

[11] W. H. Organization, "WHO World Water Day Report," World Health Organization, Geneva, 2013.