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Together We Can Confront The Challenges Of Water And Sanitation In The Modern World

28/08/2017 09:35 | Updated 28 August 2017

This year's World Water Week in Stockholm will be my first as WaterAid's new Chief Executive, and an exciting time for me - a chance to share ideas and new ways of tackling the water challenges of the modern world with others who have made it their life's work.

This is a challenging era for those of us dedicated to bringing water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone, everywhere. We need only look at the news headlines of the last month to see how rapidly the world is changing, with urbanisation and the threat of climate change making shock weather events even more damaging - including devastating flooding in Nepal, India and Bangladesh and tragic landslides in Sierra Leone. The challenges we face only get more varied and complex.

This year's theme of 'Water and Waste - reduce and reuse' reaches beyond pollution to the many layers of need in the world's water and sanitation crisis. We have learned from WHO and Unicef monitoring that 1.4 billion people in the world have gained access to a protected source of water since 2000 - an incredible achievement and one of which everyone working in water and sanitation should be justifiably proud.

Yet we also learned that 844 million people do not have clean water within reasonable walking distance. This is nearly impossible to believe in 2017, and illustrates the great challenge before world leaders if they are to fulfil the promise of the UN's Global Goals on sustainable development, including delivering water and sanitation to all by 2030.

World Water Week is one of those rare moments when those working in development, in institutions and funding partners and in the corporate world come together to explore outside-the-box opportunities to resolve a crisis that kills 289,000 children under five from diarrhoeal diseases linked to dirty water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene each year.

To that end, my colleague V.K. Madhavan, WaterAid India's chief executive, will profile the enormous challenges of open defecation in the city of Kanpur, which generates an estimated 450 million litres of sewage every day for infrastructure that can only treat around 160-170 million litres. The remainder goes directly into the Ganges. WaterAid is working there with communities and government officials from all levels to ensure the city is open-defecation-free, and to then tackle the further sanitation challenges.

That kind of cross-organisational cooperation is key wherever we are in the world. All players including the private sector have a role to play in ensuring the poorest and most marginalised have their rights to access water and sanitation met.

The result reaches far beyond an end to thirst and greater dignity. Much of the unpaid work associated with water and sanitation, like collecting water and waste, cleaning and cooking, is considered 'women's work', leaving women and girls more at risk of contracting waterborne diseases like cholera and chronic diarrhoea.

It also means healthier children who are more able to achieve. Our new report, 'Recipe for Success', reveals that food alone will not end the global malnutrition crisis. Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are a vital part of the response, because children who are suffering from chronic infection or worm infestation caused by dirty water and poor hygiene can no longer properly absorb nutrients.

And finally, it means communities and work forces that are healthier and more productive. Globally 1.5 billion people work in supply chains; of those, up to 1.35 billion are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises, or on farms in developing countries, where the water and sanitation crisis is most acute. Good access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the workforce and throughout corporate supply chains must accompany good water stewardship as a matter of course; our new research report gives multinational corporations some guidelines on how to get started.

It has never been more important to ensure that everyone, everywhere -- male and female, young and old, city-dweller and villager, disabled and not -- has access to clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene. But with a third of the world still living without a toilet, and one in ten people not having access to clean water, we still have an immense way to go before our work is done. Stockholm World Water Week will provide us with an opportunity to discuss these challenges and ways in which we can all work together to end the water and sanitation crisis.

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