World Water Day: The Water Gap

Women and children collect water from an unprotected water source at Nacoto Village, Mossuril District, Nampula Province, Mozambique.

Imagine if you were suddenly given another five hours every day.

Currently there are 844 million people around the world who don’t have clean water close to home. That means that they take over half an hour to walk, wait, fill their container and return.

Now imagine that you are the mother of a family of four who has to spend that amount of time to fill your typical 20 litre jerry-can. In your community, cultural expectations mean that fetching all the water for your household falls to you – unless you have daughters old enough to share this tiring task. Your full jerry-can weighs the same as an aeroplane luggage allowance and your path is rarely easy.

To fetch the WHO recommended minimum amount of 50 litres per person per day would take you five hours a day. Every day, every week, so that every year you would spend an astonishing total of two and a half months a year, just fetching water.

What a waste of life.

Hector Segundo Epiayu, 12, and Jose Miguel Aguilar, 11, get water from the jaguey for domestic use,  in Cachacha II, Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia. March 2017.

Sometimes you will be lucky enough to find a clean supply of water at the end of your journey but for many it will be a small pond or river, often little more than a puddle that fills the jerry-can. The water will often make you and your children sick, but you hope not too sick this time.

Today sees the launch of our “” report to mark World Water Day focusing on the one in nine of the world’s population that don’t have clean water close to home. It shows that it is the poorest and least powerful who are most often without clean water, those who are older, ill, disabled, living in remote or illegal settlements, displaced from their home or of a different caste, ethnicity or religion. But all with an equal need for and right to clean water to live a healthy, dignified life.

For those people – equivalent to the entire population of Canada, all of Europe, South Africa and New Zealand put together - spending hours a day merely getting enough water to get by is normal, but it shouldn’t be. For example, in Uganda, where WaterAid works, only just over a third of the poorest people have water close to home, making it the country with the third lowest levels of access to water after Eritrea and Papua New Guinea.

Putting a pump or other clean water source into a community is transformational, giving women back time, health and opportunity. A chance to live a more prosperous and fulfilling life, spending time earning a living or raising your family. Less time spent fetching dirty water or caring for family members suffering from waterborne diseases.

Helene Jemussene carries her baby Agostinho, 3, on her back, as she gathers water from the river near M'Mele Village, Cuamba District, Niassa Province, Mozambique. May 2017.

The international community has committed to bring safe water and sanitation to everyone everywhere by 2030 under Global Goal 6. This year marks an important moment in that commitment as in July the United Nations will review progress on Global Goal 6 – including that made by Canada. There has been progress made globally towards ensuring that everyone has clean water – for example the number of people reached in India between 2000 and 2015 at more than 300 million is almost equal to the entire population of the United States.

But progress is not fast enough – 289,000 children under five die every year because of diarrhoea linked to dirty water, poor toilets and poor hygiene. What a waste of life.

WaterAid is calling for every government to galvanise its efforts and make access to clean water a political priority and plan, finance and maintain systems accordingly. Only then will every woman be freed from the drudgery of fetching water and the worry that dirty water will claim her child.