“We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking-water, sanitation and basic health care.”
Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General
Water is the most essential requirement for all living things – including humans – as it makes up 60 to 70% by weight of all living organisms. It is no exaggeration to say that “water is life”.
Yet, despite being so vital to life, water it is one of the most unevenly shared out resources of all. For example, in Britain, the average person uses 160 litres of clean water each day; in rural Ethiopia, people use on average around 5 -10 litres a day per person. That means that the average person in the UK has a water footprint 16 to 32 times larger than the average person in rural Ethiopia!
So what is your water footprint?Put simply, this is the amount of water you use, e.g. drinking, cooking, washing, cleaning, leisure activities such as swimming, and flushing down the toilet. But your water footprint also includes the resources, land, space and energy involved in supplying this water.
Why not try to measure how many litres of water you use every day?
The water footprint: how it measures up
- One child dies every eight seconds because of unclean water or poor sanitation
- At least 1 in every 6 people in the world does not have access to clean drinking water.
- An estimated 1.6 million lives could be saved annually by providing access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.
- Agriculture and farming is responsible for about 80% of all freshwater used.
- Households in rural Africa spend about a quarter of their working day collecting water
- Pakistan spends 47 times more on the military than on water and sanitation – it is not alone; many countries spend more on guns than on water taps
- Just 1 flush of a toilet uses more water than most Africans have to use in a dayFor more fascinating facts and figures on water visit the WaterAid website
Water as a basic human right
The United Nations believes that access to clean water is one of the most fundamental rights and that without it most other rights cannot be met. Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:
“You have the right to good quality health care and to clean water, nutritious food and a clean environment so that you can stay healthy."
There are other rights that are important when it comes to water:
- Article 2 says that children should have the same rights and access to facilities whether or not they are disabled and whether they are a boy or a girl.
- Article 12 states that children have a right to participate in matters that affect them. So, children and young people should clearly be involved in promoting, managing and designing water and sanitation projects, and in educating each other about hygiene.
- Article 28 is also crucial. The article states that governments must do everything possible to encourage attendance at school. But illnesses from water-related diseases or lack of sanitation facilities disrupts education and the lack of clean, separate and private toilets at school is one reason why children (particularly girls) miss school.
- Finally, Article 24 also states that rich countries should help poorer countries achieve this.
Given all this it is extraordinary that rich countries have actually been cutting the amount of money they provide for water and sanitation programmes in poor countries in recent years.
For further information on the Convention on the Rights of the Child click here
A special Children’s World Water Forum was held in Mexico City in March 2006. One hundred and seven young people from 29 countries across the world met government ministers to discuss how children can help solve the world’s water problems.
The young people called for action from governments to fulfil the human right to safe drinking water supplies and basic sanitation. They called for facilities in all schools and communities, taking special notice of the needs of girls, very young children and children with disabilities.
The young people had much more to say! For the full text from the Children's World Water Forum see: www.unicef.org/wash
Why not have a go at writing your own water manifesto? Use the information and links provided in this section to help you. When discussed and finalised, you could send it to a government minister and ask for his/her response!