An estimated 600 million children (one in four) will struggle to access potable water by 2040 if current trends continue.
That’s the conclusion of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recent report, “Thirsting for a Future.”
Thirty-six nations currently struggle with sufficient access to clean water due to conflicts, droughts, floods and changes in climate, with children in the poorest areas impacted the most.
“The world is on the brink of a crisis, as the combination of water stress and climate change is creating a deadly outlook for children,” the report stated. “Every day, more than 800 children under 5 die from diarrhea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. Unsafe water and sanitation are also linked to stunted growth. Around 156 million children under 5 years old suffer from stunting, which causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage and impacts children’s performance in school.”
When it comes to development initiatives, the world faces a sort of Catch-22, as helping people rise out of poverty usually increases global water usage.
“Less than 2.5 percent of the world’s water supply can be classified as freshwater. Of this percentage, more than two-thirds is trapped in glaciers and ice, leaving a very small fraction available to meet the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of the world’s population,” UNICEF explained. “As a new middle class emerges around the world, demand for water will increase. Rising affluence means that a greater number of people are living more water-intensive lifestyles than ever before.”
While the outlook is grim, UNICEF emphasized that “the crisis is not inevitable” and outlined ways individuals, communities and governments can mitigate current trends and corresponding negative impacts.
These include improving global water and sanitation systems (with a focus on the most vulnerable populations), sharing knowledge about best practices regarding water usage, sanitation and personal hygiene, involving children in processes and policy discussion, and taking personal responsibility to conserve water and raise awareness.
The full report is available here.