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How many people don’t have access to clean water?

By Lucy Clarke · January 4, 2022
How many people don't have access to water?

In rich Western countries, we do not often need to think twice about our water. We use gallons of clean, fresh water every day just to flush the toilet or wash our clothes in the washing machine. It’s often something we just take for granted, but around ⅓ of the entire world’s population do not have access to clean water.

Instead, many people survive by drinking surface water found in rivers, streams, swamps, and other bodies of stagnant water. This water is likely to be contaminated with bacteria, feces, and parasites, which could cause fatal diseases if drunk. 

How many people in the world don’t have clean water?

According to a new report by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, 2.2 billion people around the world do not have access to safely managed drinking water, 4.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation, and an appalling 3 billion people cannot simply safely wash their hands.

Since 2000, there have been improvements made to the global water crisis, with 1.8 billion people gaining access to clean water over the past twenty years.

However, there are vast inequalities in the quality of these services, and inevitably those in the poorest, most rural areas suffer the most. 

Why does the lack of access to water present a bigger problem than just waterborne disease?

If you cannot access clean water easily, it is not just your health that is affected. Drinking contaminated water will increase the risk of developing a waterborne disease, but if you live in a country that has poor access to clean water, it can affect every aspect of your life.

Children can struggle to attend school regularly due to the many trips they have to take to find water sources, and the cycle of poverty can seem impossible to break. 

It is no surprise then that the places which suffer from water scarcity the most are places that have high levels of poverty, poor education, and disease.


Which countries are the most affected by the global water crisis?

The countries that are most affected by the global water crisis are predominantly in the Global South.  

Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, The Republic of Chad, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Tanzania, Somalia, Pakistan, and Nigeria are the worst affected countries with the biggest lack of access to water. 

The majority of them are on the African continent. 

What are the main reasons all of these countries have a water crisis?

Unfortunately, the basic infrastructure to access safe, clean drinking water does not exist in many of these countries. Therefore, many people must choose to collect surface water to drink - water from ponds, puddles, rivers, and swamps - instead of water from a deep well or tap. 

This water is often contaminated, and this is made worse by the fact that sanitation in these countries is often dire. This means that many families do not have access to a toilet and instead open-air defecation is normal. Any water sources nearby can be easily contaminated. 

However, in Pakistan, the water problem is slightly different. The poorest people in Pakistan have no access to hand washing, which means that illness is more deadly and more widespread in their communities.

Has progress been made in these countries over the last twenty years?

Over the past two decades, life has improved for many people living in these regions, with the amount of people relying on surface water-dropping since the early 2000s. 

However, although decent progress has been made, there are still millions of people worldwide who do not have access to clean water. Unfortunately, in some countries currently experiencing high birth rates, the amount of people practicing open defecation has actually increased.

This can be made worse by war and political regimes, and many of these countries have been led by corrupt leaders, ravaged by war and many still bear the scars of colonialism. 

This is particularly noticeable in the Republic of Chad,  which was under the control of dictator Hissène Habré from 1982- 1990. This means that even thirty years after Habré’s regime ended, progress in water sanitation is still incredibly slow in the country.


Who is worse affected by the global water crisis?

Women and children are worst affected by the lack of access to clean water. Children are more prone to catch fatal waterborne diseases, but women and girls are often responsible for collecting all the water the household needs for the day, every day. 

Collectively, it is estimated that women and girls collect water for 200 million hours every single day. The average woman in Africa walks six kilometers to haul forty pounds of water, day in, day out. 

Because most of their time and energy is spent walking miles to collect water, this means that for many women living in places experiencing water scarcity, they do not have much time for anything else.

As a result, family time, education, and work cannot take priority, and the cycle of poverty becomes much harder to break. 

Why are girls badly affected by the global water crisis?

Girls are likely to drop out of school by the time they start menstruating because in many schools there is no access to clean water, toilets, and sanitary supplies. This means that women’s education is often poor, and they are not encouraged to remain in education.

To resolve this problem, not only must sanitation and water access improve but social norms regarding menstruation must change too. 

The history of the water crisis

During the Industrial Revolution in England, increased urbanization in the 1700s and 1800s allowed poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water to be the norm for many, and this highlighted the need for better sanitation. 

In 1854, Dr. John Snow discovers the link between cholera and water usage and links an entire outbreak of cholera in London to one contaminated pump. 

Since 1900, it is estimated that over 2 billion people have been affected by drought and over  11 million people have died from it.

Recent developments regarding the global water crisis

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were written up by the U.N. These goals included a pledge to halve the number of people without sustainable access to clean water by 2015.

In 2010, the Millennium Development Goals’ clean water access target was delivered ten years ahead of schedule. 

It is reported in 2015, about 2.6 billion people worldwide have gained access to clean drinking water in the previous 25 years. That year, the U.N. pledges Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are follow-up pledges from the MDGs. 

They pledge to make clean water and sanitation accessible for all by 2030. 

How has COVID-19 contributed to the problem of water scarcity?

It was reported in 2020, that due to poor access to clean water and sanitation, 1.8 billion patients and health workers face a higher risk of COVID-19 infection. 

The fight for clean water for all is clearly not over yet.

How can Elliot for Water help?

A simple switch to your browser can be an easy way to help those in need, and together we can help prevent illness and raise communities out of poverty by simply giving freshwater - the elixir of life.  

At the time of writing, we have donated over 2.5 million liters of water to communities in need. One of our very first water sanitation projects was in Guinea-Bissau where we significantly improved the lives of 400 people by giving them access to clean drinking water. 

How does Elliot for Water work?

Add Elliot for Water onto your browser, and with every click, Elliot for Water will donate safe drinking water to the communities that really need it.

We use 60% of our profits to finance clean water projects in developing countries. A simple click can change lives, and we’re working to provide clean water to 1 million people by 2025!