Water is one of life's basic necessities. It's a human right. Yet around the world, an estimated 117 million people living in countries affected by crisis do not have access to safe water.
Drinking unsafe water spreads diseases
Children who drink unsafe water become weak, malnourished and susceptible to waterborne diseases, the second leading cause of death among children. Dirty water and poor sanitation can lead to malnutrition or make it worse. "No matter how much food a malnourished child eats, he or she will not get better if the water they are drinking is not safe," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs.
Globally, women and girls spend about 200 million hours a day collecting water
In eight out of 10 homes without running water, the job of collecting a family's water supply falls to women and girls. Globally, women and girls spend about 200 million hours a day walking to water sources — often alone, over rough terrain — and transporting heavy containers of water back home. That's time taken away from learning or building a better future for themselves. Girls who go to schools without running water or toilets are more likely to stay home when they're menstruating. Their educations are interrupted and their future prospects suffer.
UNICEF is working to solve the water burden for women and girls
UNICEF is working to improve water and sanitation for the world's most vulnerable. In Burundi, a political crisis that began in 2015 has driven 400,000 people from the country and internally displaced another 175,000. Nearly half the population has no access to safe, clean water. As a result, Burundi has the world's highest rate of chronic malnutrition, which causes stunting. An estimated 56 percent of Burundi's children are stunted; they do not reach their expected height, weight or mental capacity.
In 2017, UNICEF USA partnered with global entertainer and humanitarian Beyoncé to create the multiyear BeyGood4Burundi initiative to support programs to improve water, sanitation and basic hygiene in the hardest-to-reach areas of the landlocked East African nation. The first 35 wells have now been completed. This year, Gucci and CHIME FOR CHANGE joined the partnership. Gucci's $1 million commitment to the project as a founding partner will help support the building of 80 additional wells, providing safe, clean water to more than 120,000 women, girls and their families. The goal is to provide safe water within a 30-minute walk for all.
There is much more work to be done globally
UNICEF's goal for 2018 is to provide 35.7 million people with safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. In South Sudan, where 5.1 million people live without safe water or sanitation facilities, UNICEF is rehabilitating water treatment plants. In Bangladesh, UNICEF is protecting Rohingya refugees from waterborne illnesses during monsoon season by chlorinating the water supply and relocating and rebuilding toilets in danger of flooding. And in wartorn Syria, UNICEF is providing displaced families with safe, clean water so they can stay healthy. There is much more work to be done worldwide.
Photo at top: Globally, girls and women spend a collective 200 million hours every day fetching water for their families. © Shaquana Golding 2017