IN many parts of
the world people take it for granted that they can turn on
a tap or flush a toilet. But more than 1 billion people have
little choice but to drink from potentially harmful sources
The consequences are deadly. Nearly 2 million people die
every year from diarrhoeal diseases including cholera, according
to the World Health Organization. Of this toll, 90 per cent
are children under 5, mostly in developing countries, where
poor sanitation and hygiene are the biggest killers.
Add a crisis, such as a flood, drought or food insecurity,
and the problem is magnified many times over.
Conflict contributes another dimension. About one-third of
people who lack access to safe water live with conflict. When
water sources are contaminated, damaged or destroyed, thirst
and disease add to the misery of war.
Water, the most basic building block of life, is central
to humanitarian work. As former United Nations Secretary-General
Kofi Annan said, “We shall not finally defeat AIDS,
tuberculosis, malaria or any of the other infectious diseases
that plague the developing world until we have also won the
battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health
Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right.
Too often governments don’t invest enough in the infrastructure
to keep their people healthy. Even worse, governments don’t
protect their natural resources. They allow private companies
to exploit precious water resources needed to sustain their
populations. Safe water and sanitation is a human right and
must not become a commodity sold to the highest bidder.
How is the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement addressing this
First, we deal with acute crises. Here, time is of the essence
to save lives, contain health threats and restore dignity.
Over the past 12 years, National Societies have provided
more than 6 million people with water and sanitation in emergencies.
Second, we address chronic water and sanitation challenges,
mostly related to the grim statistic that two out of every
ten people in the world have no source of safe water and four
people in ten do not have access to even a simple pit latrine.
Over the last ten years, National Societies have provided
sustainable water and sanitation facilities to more than 2.5
million people, contributing to the United Nations Millennium
Development Goal to reduce by half those without sustainable
water and sanitation facilities by 2015. In addition, the
ICRC has provided water and sanitation for more than 16 million
people affected by conflict in 40 countries.
In 2005 the International Federation launched a ten-year
Global Water and Sanitation Initiative to bring water and
sanitation to 5 million people by 2015. So far, the initiative
has identified more than 15 large projects in Africa, the
Caribbean and the Pacific. In one, 250,000 people in some
of Niger’s poorest communities will benefit from safe
water. Among the priorities are protecting existing water
resources, avoiding decertification, promoting hygiene and
responding to community needs.
The Movement’s unique grass-roots network is essential.
Only a well-balanced programme that addresses water, sanitation
and hygiene promotion will bring the change we need.
There is no room for complacency. In sub-Saharan Africa,
42 per cent of the population is still without an improved
And there is no time to lose. Unsafe water kills 3,900 children
a day. Climate change is making water even scarcer. If we
do not tackle this problem, we condemn billions of people
to a cycle of poverty and disease.