Water Resources

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Climate change has a profound impact on freshwater resources: all regions of the world show an overall net negative impact from climate change on water resources and freshwater ecosystems. Areas in which runoff is projected to decline are likely to face a reduction in the value of the services provided by water resources. In fact, a country with more than approximately 1,700 cubic meters of renewable fresh water per person per year will generally experience only intermittent or localized water shortages. As the amount of available fresh water sinks below this level, countries begin to experience "water stress"-that is, water supply problems tend to become chronic and widespread.The beneficial impacts of increased annual runoff in other areas are likely to be tempered in some areas by negative effects of increased precipitation variability and seasonal runoff shifts on water supply, water quality and flood risks.2

The 2006 United Nations Human Development Report notes some staggering facts about the impact of water on human health which is being directly impacted by climate change.As a result of the reduced availability and accessibility to freshwater sources, people across the globe will be affected in a myriad of ways. Four themes are highlighted in discussions of freshwater resources: access to water, development, impact on children’s health and the role of women.



Water scarcity in major river basins: Physical scarcity: more than 75% of river flows are allocated to agriculture, industry or domestic consumption.
Economic scarcity: water resources are abundant relative to human purposes but human, institutional and financial capital limits access to sufficient water and malnutrition in these areas.4

Access to Water 

Governments must assure citizens of accessibility, availability and security of food and water. Accessibility is the ability of the people to actually obtain the available food and resources; in many countries accessibility is more of a problem than the actual availability. Availability is the very presence of food or means of production of food in a community or household; this includes a water source.  Security means that food and water are always available and accessible to the population, both in the present and for future generations.5

  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water
  • 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation
  • Lack of water is closely related to poverty
    • Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three living on less than $1 a day
    • More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.


Water Rights and Wrongs, UNHDR Youth Booklet, November 2006 p.16 6


Water and Development

Much of the world lives without access to clean water. Privatization of water resources, promoted as a means to bring business efficiency into water service management, has instead led to reduced access for the poor around the world as prices for these essential services have risen.

  • Corporations own or operate water systems across the globe that brings in about $200 billion a year.  Yet they serve only about 7 percent of the world's population, leaving a potentially vast market untapped. 7
  • To these human costs can be added the massive economic waste associated with the water and sanitation deficit… The costs associated with spending, productivity losses and labor diversions… are greatest in some of the poorest countries.  Sub-Saharan Africa loses about 5% of GDP, or some $28.4 billion annually, a figure that exceeds total aid flows and debt relief to the region in 2003.
  • A mere 12 percent of the world's population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World. 8


Impact on Children’s Health

Children throughout the world suffer greatly because they don't have access to safe water and sanitation. Their health, education and family relationships are affected.9

  • Some 1.8 million children die each year as a result of diarrhea
    • Additionally, lack of water means lost school time for many children; 443 million school days are lost each year form water-related illness. 10
  • 400 million children(1 in 5 form developing world) have no access to safe water.  1.4 million children will die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. 11

The time required to collect water often means many children miss out on schooling.  Credit: CIESIN, Haiti Trip 12


Role of Women

In most developing countries the task of collecting water falls to women. In rural Africa women often walk ten miles or more every day to fetch water. In the dry season it is not uncommon for women to walk twice this distance. The tragedy is that, having spent so much time and effort in reaching a source of water, the water itself is often dirty, polluted and a health hazard. Unclean water causes illnesses such as diarrhea and dysentery, which are responsible worldwide for the deaths of thousands of children under the age of five every day.

  •  Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.
  • 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometer, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 liters per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 liters of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day.)
  • Lack of water means millions women spend many hours collecting water every day, sometimes from many miles away. 13
  • Close to half of all people in developing countries suffer at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits


In most developing countries the task of collecting water falls to women.  Credit: WaterAid / Caroline Penn 14


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