The Blog

Talking Extreme Poverty at Davos

There are still 748 million people on Earth without access to clean water, many of whom have to walk for hours each day to fetch water that puts their health at risk.

This week I'll join some 2,500 other delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where business and political leaders along with leaders from civil society, international organisations, religion, media and the arts will discuss our new global context. They will cover a gamut of issues from climate change to disease epidemics, from technology to depressed commodity prices.

As a global village we face great challenges this year. Last year was the warmest year on record, evidence that climate change threatens the way of life we presently take for granted, and a reminder of the importance of the Paris conference on climate change at year's end. Ebola has taken a heavy toll on health systems in West Africa and ripped apart any belief that another continent's epidemic can be ignored by the developed world.

It is also a critical moment for those who will be least represented at this year's forum -- those eking out an existence on less than $1.25 a day. Those living in extreme poverty face severe socio-economic inequalities.

Antsa (left) and her cousin, Fanja, both 10, carry buckets of water for their family every day in Anjezika village, Madagascar. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Responsibility and opportunity

This week in New York United Nations member states are finally beginning to negotiate the new set of Sustainable Development Goals.

These goals will provide the blueprint for the next generation of how to tackle extreme poverty while making our planet a more liveable place.

It is an enormous responsibility, and a tremendous opportunity.

We want to see delivering water and sanitation to those without at the centre of the new Goals. There are still 748 million people on Earth without access to clean water, many of whom have to walk for hours each day to fetch water that puts their health at risk. One person in every three -- 2.5 billion -- do not have a basic, hygienic place to relieve themselves, contributing to the spread of disease.

What that means is disease spreading quickly when it might have been checked by clean water, vigorous hygiene practices, and sanitation that properly contains waste.

No escaping poverty without water, toilets

WaterAid believes that without access to clean water, safe sanitation and good hygiene practice, it is almost impossible to escape extreme poverty. Every hour spent fetching water or recovering from a waterborne disease spread by unsafe or non-existent sanitation is one less hour for parents to earn a living, one less hour that a child spends in school and a step backwards for their future prospects.

It means newborn babies contracting deadly infections that are almost consigned to history in the UK, causing sepsis that ends their brief lives.

It means young children stunted and their physical and mental development limited by chronic diarrhoea.

It means children -- mainly girls -- spending hours fetching heavy jerrycans of water instead of studying toward a better future.

And it means women, young and old, suffering the indignity and risk of violence that comes from creeping out into the night to a field to relieve themselves because there isn't a safe, private place close by.

It's all a long way from conversations in Davos. But a lack of clean water and sanitation, and an inability to keep yourself and your environment clean, impacts on a country's most important economic resource -- its people -- and that, directly or indirectly, affects us all.

We have a chance now to do something about it.

As the UN member-states meet to shape the 17 proposed goals by September, these fundamental human rights must be among them: both as a stand-alone goal and by being recognised as integral parts of effective healthcare and improved access to education.

Impact on us all

One of the more unusual events I'll be participating in at Davos is called the Struggle for Survival - a simulation game run by the Crossroads Foundation which tries to give executives an insight into how people get by on $2 a day. The struggle for water will be among their challenges.

Very few people in the room at Davos will be able to truly imagine what it is like to have to fight for every drop. But the private sector has become an important partner in the drive to tackle extreme poverty, and with good reason. Half the global population will face water scarcity by 2030, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent.

The impact will be felt by us all, and it is in everyone's interest to address the water and sanitation crisis. The costs will be too great to measure if we do not.

To learn more about why 2015 is a time to make your voice heard on ending extreme poverty, join #action2015.