WaterAid report reveals nations with lowest access to water

5 min read
People collecting water

With Cape Town working to avert its ‘Day Zero’, when water taps are threatened with shutoff, a new WaterAid report reveals millions of others around the world already face these conditions daily.

WaterAid's State of the World's Water 2018: The Water Gap reveals Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Niger, Mozambique, India and Pakistan are among the countries where the highest percentage or largest number of people cannot get clean water within a half-hour round trip.

The report, released to mark World Water Day on 22 March, also includes new data on the often-sizeable gap between rich and poor when it comes to access to water.

Today 844 million people globally do not have clean water, a number which has risen from last year, This is in part because those who are not able to fetch water within a half hour round trip no longer count as having access to water, adding to existing pressures from urbanisation, population growth, shock weather events and poor financing and prioritisation of water supply.

Among the main findings:

  • Eritrea, Papua New Guinea and Uganda are the three countries with lowest access to clean water close to home, with Papua New Guinea the second lowest in the world at 37% and Uganda a new addition to the list this year at 38% access.
  • Mozambique ranks fourth in the table of countries making greatest progress in water provision, but remains 10th in the world for lowest access to water. Its capital city, Maputo, is currently experiencing severe water shortages and is now preparing for rationing.  
  • Cambodia is among the top-10 countries most improved by percentage points, with 75% of people now enjoying clean water close to home, compared to 52% in 2000.
  • Almost every country struggling to provide its people with clean water also has a huge gap in access between richest and poorest. For instance, in Niger, only 41% of the poorest people have access to water, while 72% of its wealthiest do. In neighbouring Mali, the gap widens to 45% and 93%, respectively.
  • India, while still having the most people without clean water, is also near the top of the list for most people reached: more than 300 million since 2000, or nearly equivalent to the population of the United States.

The report comes as nations prepare for a July 2018 review of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030.

WaterAid Australia's Chief Executive, Rosie Wheen, said:

“It’s unacceptable that 289,000 children under five years old die each year from diarrhoeal illnesses directly linked to dirty water, lack of decent toilets and poor hygiene. We all need to increase the urgency around the water and sanitation crisis as current progress is nowhere near fast enough.

“This year presents a time for real change and progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to deliver access to water and sanitation for all by 2030 – will be reviewed by world leaders in New York in July. We urge them to take real action as without water and sanitation, none of the other Global Goals – for alleviating poverty, improving health and creating a fairer and more sustainable world – will be achieved.

“The Australian government’s Foreign Policy White Paper highlights the need for a strategic agenda to combine the expertise of Australian NGOs, the water industry, academic and private sectors to help Asian Pacific governments achieve rapid change with access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

“Cape Town is a wake-up call, reminding us that access to water, our most precious resource, is increasingly under threat. Those marginalised by age, gender, class, caste or disability, or living in a slum or remote rural community, are hardest to reach and will continue to suffer as long as governments do not prioritise and fund access to water for all.

“Already 60% of the world are living in water stress and this is expected to increase, with extreme weather brought by climate change, urbanisation, industrialisation and the simple ever-increasing demand for water. We know progress is possible: India has reached more than 300 million people in 15 years alone. But progress requires financing, political priority and the will to ensure the basic needs of every person are met, to ensure a better future for millions around the world.”

This World Water Day, WaterAid is calling for:

  • Recognition that the UN Global Goals are everyone’s responsibility to deliver, to ensure no one is left behind. Everyone is accountable if they fail.
  • Responsible environmental management, including regulating the use of water in agriculture and industry, to protect and preserve enough clean water for communities’ basic needs.
  • Include access to water, sanitation and hygiene as central to health, education, nutrition and gender equality initiatives. Without water, none of the other UN Global Goals can be met.
  • Urgent action on the ground, at regional, national and global scale. Access to safe drinking water is a UN-recognised human right: politicians need to prioritise it and fund it, civil society must help all people speak out for their rights, and those working in water, sanitation and hygiene must support service providers and government to respond.  
  • Mobilising resources from taxes, tariffs and transfers, and increasing the amount and proportion of aid for water, sanitation and hygiene, to close the gaps in financing. This also means supporting institutions to ensure they are accountable and well-governed, so that money is well-spent, and promoting pro-poor policies that ensure access to water for everyone.