A child drinking from a cup

©IFRC/TatuBlomqvist

For most of us in the UK, the journey to get clean water involves walking across the room and turning on a tap. So the idea of having to walk for three hours to get clean water is unimaginable.

But for millions of people across the world, access to safe water is still a struggle. As of 2011, an estimated 768 million people worldwide lacked access to safe water.

To put that into perspective, that’s approximately 12 times the population of the UK.

Add into the mix that an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide are without adequate sanitation facilities – many of whom still defecate in the open – and the scale of the challenge becomes even greater.

World Water Day on Saturday is a chance to reflect upon the importance of clean water to our very existence. But it is not all doom and gloom; progress is being made and the British Red Cross is playing its part.

Simple steps, big difference

“Everyone needs clean water, people understand that if they don’t have clean water they will get sick,” said Sonia Molina, a water and sanitation adviser at the British Red Cross.

The British Red Cross is currently supporting water and sanitation programmes in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

“Our programmes in Africa are quite simple,” continued Sonia. “When we look at providing access to clean water most of the time it’s to build or repair water points such as wells, or support the construction of latrines. We also train local people so they can manage and look after the facilities.

“They are simple but very important steps in places where people don’t have anything. Constructing facilities is one part of the challenge, but the most important aspect is ensuring that people are aware of why washing their hands or using a latrine is so important for their health.

“It all helps to reduce water-borne diseases like diarrhoea or malaria.”

Women gathering water from a borehole in Zimbabwe

©IFRC/TatuBlomqvist

Impact of illnesses

Illnesses caused by poor sanitation and hygiene place a heavy economic burden upon individuals, families and governments due to the cost of health care and the loss of productivity.

Lack of sanitation, contaminated water and poor hygiene practices contribute towards almost 90 per cent of child deaths from diarrhoeal diseases.

While people universally understand the need for clean water, ensuring good sanitation practices can be more complex.

“If people have always defecated in the open, it’s harder for them to understand the link between how going to the toilet and washing their hands will reduce diseases, so this is a big challenge,” added Sonia.

“There is an imbalance between the progress being made in water and sanitation. Sanitation can be much more complex depending on the context.”

This is reflected in the stats: 92 per cent of the world’s population is projected to have access to safe drinking water by 2015; but only 67 per cent will have access to an improved toilet.

Positive change

In 2005, the Red Cross Movement launched a global water and sanitation initiative. The original plan was to target five million people over 10 years, but the initiative will treble its target by 2015.

Infographic

©IFRC

As of January this year, the Red Cross Movement had delivered water and sanitation services to 12 million people worldwide.

The Movement has also reached more than five million people with hygiene promotion activities. The new aim is to reach 30 million people by 2025.