Water and sanitation

Water is fundamental to all life.  Yet according to the World Health Organization, lack of water to meet daily needs is a reality for one in three people around the world.  Poor access to safe water and sanitation, and lack of standards contribute to health crises in many developing countries, and increasingly leads to violent conflict.  Moreover, the absence of a strong rule of law in countries facing water challenges can be a disincentive to foreign investment and economic development.

Increasing people’s access to safe water and sanitation has clear benefits for human development and can positively impact a country’s GDP through savings in health care and gains in productivity.  The World Bank estimates that investing in sanitation and drinking-water brings large economic returns which average approximately 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), rising to over 7% for some countries.  However, nearly 900 million people in the world do not use drinking water from an improved source, and over 2.6 billion people do not use improved sanitation facilities.1

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that recognised the right to drinking water and sanitation as a human right “essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”.  Following, in September 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council affirmed the decision, explaining that the right to water and sanitation is predicated on the right to an adequate standard of living, contained in several existing human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.2

The Reed Elsevier Environmental Challenge contributes to the Water for Life Decade, established by the UN General Assembly, running between 2005 and 2015, in support of the Millennium Development Goal to reduce by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water and to stop unsustainable exploitation of water resources.


1  United Nations GLAAS Report 2010 http://www.unwater.org/downloads/UN-Water_GLAAS_2010_Report.pdf
2 http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/gashc3987.doc.htm