The world’s most expensive commodities—gold, precious gems, and oil, etc.,—are highly treasured by many and have even incited violence and division among some. And yet, arguably, one of our most valuable resources across the globe is the one we do so little to protect.
Clean and safe water is a luxury many of us sometimes take for granted, and many can only dream of. With the impact of climate change increasing, our limited freshwater resources are disappearing and becoming more important than ever before. The world has already lost 70% of its natural wetlands over the last century—a shortsighted and possibly irrecoverable move on our part. Protecting water-related ecosystems for ourselves and future generations is now essential. (The International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2019)
Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population. Not only that but this number is expected to increase as climate change causes temperatures to heat up. Dwindling water supplies are now affecting every continent—not just the arid regions so often displayed on the media.
On top of our resources drying up, as a global collective we are also actively polluting the supplies left available to us. 80% of wastewater (from industrial, agricultural and consumer sources) is untreated when discharged back into waterways. (The United Nations world water development report 2017, 2020)
Beyond water scarcity and stress, a lack of basic sanitation affects about 1 in 3 people globally. Figures from 2015 highlighted that 39% of the global population, 2.9 billion people, had access to safe sanitation. Furthermore, over 4.5 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation facilities (services that adequately disposed or treated excreta), and another 2.3 billion people lacked even basic sanitation. The same study revealed that 892 million people globally still practiced open defecation. (United Nations Development Programme, n.d.b.)
Further figures from the 2015 research indicated that only 71% of the global population, or about 5.2 billion people, had access to safely-managed drinking water. Plus, although 2.1 billion people have seen improved water sanitation since 1990, 844 million still lacked even basic drinking water. (United Nations Development Programme, n.d.b.)
These numbers only continue to rise to this day as we are seeing an increase in drought and desertification due to climate change. Research projects that by 2050, at least one in four people globally will experience water shortages as part of daily life. (United Nations Development Programme, n.d.b.)A lack of clean drinking water and sanitation is detrimental to more than just our thirst though. There are major health ramifications that come with consuming unsafe water. Diarrhea from drinking contaminated water is the leading cause of illness and death globally, with 90% of deaths being children under five years of age. (World Health Organization, n.d.)
Realising the Global Goal 6 of universal safe and affordable drinking water is no small challenge to overcome. A project of this scope involves providing basic services and water accessibility to over 800 million people. In addition, regions which experience particular water stress—namely North Africa, and West, Central and South Asia—require improved accessibility and safety for another two billion people. (United Nations Development Programme, n.d.b.)
Author: United Nations | (United Nations, 2015)
The Global Goal 6 (part of the Global Goals collective for 2030) strives to ensure the availability and sustainable management of safe water and sanitation for all. Meeting this goal will require a global, multi-pronged approach on an international and local scale that involves investing in adequate infrastructure, providing sanitation facilities, and encouraging hygiene.
There are several specific aims within Global Goal 6 to help achieve the overarching mission by 2030. These include:
Clean water is not just important to provide people with a safe drink. It affects many aspects of people’s lives, their opportunities, and the overall health of our world. Adequate water resources could even help to reduce conflict between warring countries. (Fröhlich, 2012)
Author: MAPFRE | (MAPFRE, 2019)
Clean water and hygienic living conditions have a significant impact on mortality rates and the spread of disease. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us on a global scale that improved sanitation and ablutions can prevent contagion from escalating.
Water sufficiency can even improve greater gender equality, since women are more likely to be responsible for fetching water in water-scarce regions rather than taking other employment avenues. This in turn also allows more children, particularly girls, to attend school and improve impoverished communities by devoting time to other kinds of work.
Clean water initiatives can also have a positive impact on our world’s biodiversity and pollution. These initiatives help reduce the impacts of climate change and drought, while still increasing the production of healthy food for an ever-increasing global population.
It’s critical that we improve our protection and access to water supplies and begin to value water for the precious resource it is—given how necessary water is for the health and well-being of our people and planet.
Author: The Water Project | (The Water Project, n.d.)
Where there is water, there is life! There are many different ways we can contribute to supporting clean water. Here are a few actions you can do in your own home.
Check out this clean water and sanitation challenge infographic to discover how collectively we can all work together to take action on a global scale and reach the Sustainable Development Goal 6.
What other ways can you think of to create awareness or change habits around water use and consumption?
Now, more than ever, the world needs to implement solutions for the more efficient use and management of water to address this ever-growing demand. We need to continue to address the threats to water security and instigate processes that will decrease the frequency and severity of droughts and floods resulting from climate change.
Global Goals for Sustainable Development | (Global Goals for Sustainable Development, 2018)
At the moment, it is unlikely that most countries will reach full implementation of these integrated water resources management by 2030. Collectively though, the Goal could be achieved if we all doubled the current annual rate of progress.
Visit the Global Goals for Sustainable Development homepage for Goal 6 to get involved and take action to make a difference.
Author: The Global Goals | (The Global Goals, n.d.a.)
With an average daytime maximum temperature across Australia of 30.7°C is renowned for being an especially dry continent. (Klein, 2020)
In 2019, a vast majority of the country experienced the lowest rainfall decile ranges on record. Not only does the prolonged drought impact our drinking water resources, but it makes the landscape very dry and prone to forest fires.
Like many parts of the world, Australia is currently experiencing major water stress and shortages, an impact caused by both environmental and human factors. The country is on the brink of a severe water crisis. (Lieven, 2020)
Water is vital and supports almost every part of our daily lives! Thankfully, drinking water quality in Australia is high by world standards. The urban water sector has done well in providing this essential service by supporting both the business and household needs of the country.
However, the sector also faces unprecedented risks and challenges as the true value of water and sanitation services are still not well understood by the general public. This, in turn, affects the behaviour of water users, and how they consume and safeguard Australia’s water resources.
Watch this informative video from National Geographic to learn how the country is tracking the use of its water supplies to understand how to keep water flowing for its growing population.
Author: National Geographic | (Heggie, n.d.)
Do you know how much water, on average, each person in Australia uses? It’s about 82,000 litres of fresh water per person each year. That’s about 225 litres per day, and enough to fill seven and a half concrete mixer trucks. That’s a lot of water! (Australian Infrastructure Audit, 2019)
The country also continues to face a range of increasing issues that will only increase the cost of the above urban water bills. To be able to continually provide safe, reliable and affordable services, the Australian urban water sector has to adapt to the changing and growing needs of the country’s cities and towns.
To understand more about the challenges of providing sustainable water resources in urban settings, and in order to support liveable cities, explore the Australian Infrastructure Audit for 2019 further:
Author: Infrastructure Australia | (Australian Infrastructure Audit, 2019)
Do you wonder where your water comes from when you turn on the tap? Maybe you already know the answer to this question! Well, if you live in Australia’s most populous city, you’ve probably heard of Warragamba Dam.
Warragamba is Australia’s largest urban water supply dam and the source of 70% of Sydney’s drinking water. The dam creates Lake Burragorang, which holds four times as much water as Sydney Harbour. (WaterNSW, 2013)
WaterNSW scientists monitor seasonal changes in the lake to ensure the dam operators select the highest quality of water to send to the city. Protective boundaries around most of the lake mean the area has been untouched for the last 50 years to ensure the safety and cleanliness of this valuable resource.
Author: WaterNSW | (Water NSW, n.d.)
Discover how seasons and changes in temperature affect Warragamba Dam and Lake Burragorang to create lake stratification (when the water in a lake forms distinct layers through heating from the sun). Learn too, how the dam operates accordingly to deliver the highest quality water to Sydney.
Author: WaterNSW | (WaterNSW, 2013)
The 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia caused untold ecological and biodiversity damage. About 20% of Australia’s forests, approximately 18.6 million hectares, burned to ashes and an estimated one billion animals were killed. Some endangered species were driven to extinction. These massive fires underscored the critical need to ensure the safety and protection of available and sustainable water. (Wikipedia, n.d.)
Bushfires can negatively affect water quality in serious ways by significantly degrading and altering the dynamics of water ecosystems. The degree to which quality is affected depends on several factors including the size and physical features of the water catchment, the types of vegetation and soil, and size and extent of the fire.
The most detrimental effects occur when there are heavy rains soon after fires, just as happened in Australia, as damaged soil is vulnerable to erosion and runoff. This runoff carries sediments, ash, and pollutants into streams and rivers, which affects the aquatic environments and drinking water quality.
Due to these consequences, it is crucial to protect local water catchments, water supplies, and our treatment infrastructure following the effects of bushfires. Effective communication strategies are essential too, as are protective measures such as programs to monitor water quality and prevent sediment and erosion from washing into our water bodies.
The National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS) sets water quality objectives and implements preventative and rehabilitation measures for the whole country. Read more about these objectives here:
Author: Australian Government Initiative | (Australian Government Initiative, 2017)
Bushfires pose both short and long term effects to the public availability of clean drinking water, by damaging supply infrastructure and water catchments, and these impacts could last for decades.
Author: The Guardian | (Khan, 2020)
Australia does a great deal to support clean water and sanitation efforts in communities outside of the country with programs like WASH in the Indo-Pacific region. This program aims to affect lasting change through effective governance and policies, gender equality, and by facilitating necessary and trade.
Author: Australia Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade | (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, n.d.)
Most of us would assume that Australia, as a developed nation, means our population can all access clean water supplies. Unfortunately, this is not true as many Aboriginal communities struggle to meet national water standards and, accordingly, they suffer from the effects of this scarcity. (Beavan, 2012)
Check out this insightful piece about the fallacy surrounding the numbers of Australians who can access clean, safe water:
The University of Queensland | (Hall, Shannon, & Jagals, 2016)
In parts of rural Australia, the drinking water of some remote communities is contaminated with uranium, faecal bacteria and nitrates. Water scarcity also means there is irregular washing of faces, hands and bodies for families living in crowded homes. As a result, residents in these communities suffer from water and hygiene-related health problems at higher rates than the general population.
This highlights real issues, as Australia is the only developed country that has not eradicated trachoma, a preventable tropical disease that can cause blindness, which persists in remote areas with poor hygiene. Glue ear is another common, preventable disease that can cause permanent hearing loss in these communities. This presents a persistent disease burden for Australia. For this to change the country must meet its goal for proper water sanitation.
Clean water and improved sanitation measures can help break the link between poor health and the spread of disease in our country’s poorer communities.
Young people around Australia are taking action with projects in their community that are in support of clean water. Take a look at these awesome examples and get inspired!
This was our winning project from 2019:
Art4Agriculture | (Art4Agriculture, 2019)
And look at what Kreative Koalas contributed:
Picture You in Agriculture | (Picture You in Agriculture, 2019)
Ask yourself, what can you do to contribute to your local community and to clean water actions? Take action to contribute to our global and local water crisis by doing your part towards the Global Goal 6 for Clean Water and Sanitation.Back to Top