A new report by the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, says that around the world, more than 1.42 billion people, including 450 million children, live in areas of high, or extremely high, water vulnerability. This means that 1 in 5 children worldwide does not have enough water to meet their everyday needs.
The analysis, part of the Water Security for All initiative, identifies areas where physical water scarcity risks overlap with poor water service levels. Communities living in these areas depend on surface water, unimproved sources, or water that can take more than 30 minutes to collect.
Children – the biggest victims
"The world's water crisis is not simply coming, it is here, and climate change will only make it worse," warned UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "Children are the biggest victims,” she pointed out, adding, “When wells dry-up, children are the ones missing school to fetch water.” “When droughts diminish food supplies, children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. When floods hit, children fall ill from waterborne illnesses. And when water resources decline, children cannot wash their hands to fight off diseases."
The data shows that children in more than 80 countries live in areas with high or extremely high water vulnerability. Eastern and Southern Africa has the highest proportion of children living in such areas, with 58 percent facing difficulty accessing sufficient water every day. It is followed by West and Central Africa (31 percent), South Asia (25 percent), and the Middle East (23 percent). South Asia is home to the largest number of children living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability – more than 155 million children.
Dire situation in 37 countries
Children in 37 ‘hotspot’ countries face especially dire circumstances in terms of absolute numbers, the proportions of children affected, and where global resources, support and urgent action must be mobilized. This list includes Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania and Yemen.
Demand for water continues to increase dramatically while resources are dwindling. In addition to rapid population growth, urbanization, water misuse and mismanagement, climate change and extreme weather events reduce available quantities of safe water, exacerbating water stress. According to a UNICEF report from 2017, almost 1 in 4 children globally will live in areas of extremely high water stress by 2040
While the impact of water scarcity can be felt by all, the most vulnerable are children. They and families living in vulnerable communities are hit by high water scarcity levels as well as the lowest water services because of climate shocks and extreme events.
UNICEF is launching the Water Security for All initiative to ensure every child has access to sustainable and climate-resilient water services. The initiative aims to mobilize resources, partnerships, innovation and global response to identified hotspots where the need for safe, resilient and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services is the greatest and most urgent. (Source: UNICEF)