In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, children walk to a river to collect water. Image credit: Asian Development Bank
According to a new report presented by the World Bank to policymakers and water professional at the World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, entitled Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals, unless countries all over the world invest US$150 billion into efforts to make safe and clean water accessible to all, an economic crisis will arise due to developmental and healthcare impacts on a major economic driver of the future as they continue consuming contaminated water: The children.
But in order for Goal Six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – providing all with access to safe and affordable sanitation by 2030 – to be realised, countries need to quadruple their current spending that goes into clean water, but achieving this goals means that the private sector needs to be engaged, as a huge gap exists in terms of access to potable, piped water between low-income and wealthier communities in both urban and rural areas.
Of the nations surveyed in the report, 75 per cent, or three out of four respondents, did not have access to improved sanitation, with 80 per cent – or four out of five – living without piped water in rural communities.
In the cities, low-income residents can be up to three times less likely to have access to clean, piped water as compared to higher-income residents.
The report also underlined the fact that when unsafe and contaminated water is consumed and sanitation is poor and unimproved, people, especially children, are exposed not only to diarrhoeal diseases – the second leading cause of death in children who are under he age of five – but also malnutrition and subsequently, stunting.
In Ecuador, for instance, 24 per cent of city residents consume polluted water, and as a result, 21 per cent of children there are stunted with 18 per cent underweight.
According to the report, more than 40 per cent of children experiencing stunted growth were also found in five other countries, including Bangladesh, Niger, and Guatemala.
But with the children’s health and well-being threatened and compromised by the lack of clean water and sanitation, the World Bank and its published report have stated that these economies are witnessing a “silent emergency.” With malnutrition come long-term negative effects much like poor mental and physical development, among others, which are, in turn, injurious to human capital and economic development.
“We are risking the futures of our children: Their potential is being stymied by unequal or uneven access to the services they require to thrive,” Nigeria country director, Rachid Benmessaoud, warned, pointing to the dire consequences the nation’s economy will have to bear.
The report pinpointed a number of countries with low investments in water, including Nigeria, where more than half the people who reside in rural areas live more than a half hour away from a piped water source; Bangladesh, where the potentially lethal E. coli was found in tap water; Haiti, where access to cleaner water has decreased over the past 25 years; and Indonesia, where only a meagre five per cent of urban wastewater is safely treated before disposal.
The World Bank said that innovations and investments must be coordinated across various sectors in order to upgrade human development such as reducing stunting, and that nations must quicken progression from mere policies regarding water and sanitation to actual implementation with improved efficiency.
Senior director for the Water Global Practice at the World Bank, Guangzhe Chen, has called on governments to immediately close the gap on access to clean water.
“To give everyone an equal chance at reaching their full potential, more resources, targeted to areas of high vulnerability and low access, are needed,” he said.