Safe water crisis

Access to safe drinking water and sanitation remains a serious concern worldwide

Safe water crisis


lobal access to safe water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene resources reduce illness and death from disease and can lead to improved health, poverty reduction and socio-economic development. During the last few years, the Covid-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the urgent need for universal access to safe water as frequent and proper hand washing with soap and water is one of the most effective actions to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Even so, many people lack access to these basic necessities, leaving them at risk for diseases related to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Globally, two billion people do not have safely managed drinking water services, 3.6 billion do not have safely managed sanitation services; and 2.3 billion do not have access to a hand washing facility with water and soap at home.

World Water Day 2023 is about accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis. In 2015, the world committed to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, as part of the 2030 Agenda – the promise that everyone would have safely managed water and sanitation by 2030. Currently, we are seriously off-track. There is an urgent need to accelerate change. The latest data shows that governments must work on average four times faster to meet the SDG 6 on time. This is not a problem that any single actor or group can solve. Water affects everyone. We need everyone to take action.

The WHO has reported that 1.4 million people die annually and 74 million will have their lives shortened by diseases related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene. Today, one in four people, i.e. two billion people worldwide, lack safe drinking water. Globally, 44 percent of household wastewater is not safely treated. Global water demand (in water withdrawals) is projected to increase by 55 percent by 2050. Less than one percent of earth’s water is usable fresh water. Unsafe water is a leading cause of death among children under-five; most of these deaths are preventable. The problem is particularly acute in poor rural areas, where a lack of infrastructure leaves people to rely on open, unclean water sources. That is why 80 percent of all illnesses in the developing world are water-related. As a result, every minute a child dies of a water-related disease. In just one day, 200 million work hours are consumed by women collecting water for their families.

Dysfunction throughout the water cycle undermines progress on all major global issues, from health to hunger, gender equality to jobs, education to industry, and disasters to peace. The global campaign encourages people to take action in their lives to change how they consume and manage water. These promises from individuals and communities will contribute to the Water Action Agenda alongside larger commitments from governments, companies, organisations, institutions, and coalitions.

Water scarcity is a growing concern worldwide. Unsustainable and ever-growing demands on our freshwater resources have overloaded aquifers and surface waters in many places, harming ecosystems and threatening future economic growth. A regional water crisis, often triggered by drought, can result in famine, forced migration and other humanitarian emergencies.

The WHO has reported that 1.4 million people die annually, and 74 million will have their lives shortened by diseases related to poor water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Today, one in four people, i.e. two billion people worldwide, lack safe drinking water. Globally, 44 percent of household wastewater is not safely treated.

Pakistan is running short of water. The signs of water stress are almost everywhere in the country in the form of water scarcity, resource depletion and contamination. Poor management of existing water resources, compounded by changing precipitation patterns due to global warming and not having invested in storages have made Pakistan all the more susceptible to extreme floods, long spells of drought and increasing natural disasters.

With large numbers of refugees, the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, difficult economic and political conditions, inflation and increasingly devastating extreme weather events such as the historic floods in 2022, the problem has worsened.

Pakistan’s water crisis is explained mainly in terms of rapid population growth followed by climate change (floods and droughts), poor agricultural sector water management, inefficient infrastructure and water pollution. It has also resulted in aggravating tensions between the provinces.

Population growth and urbanisation are the biggest challenges for deteriorating water resources and decreasing per capita water availability in Pakistan. Between 1972 and 2020, Pakistan’s population increased by 2.6 times, moving it in rank from 9th to 5th. Total water use in Pakistan increased by about 0.7 percent per year between 1977 and 2017 while total water resources remained static at 246.8 billion cubic metres (BCM), resulting in a decrease in per capita water resources. Only 20 percent of the entire population of Pakistan has access to safe drinking water. The remaining 80 percent of the population is forced to use unsafe drinking water due to the scarcity of safe and healthy drinking water sources.

Pakistan is among the 10 countries most vulnerable in the world to climate change. It is already facing climate-related threats to water resources, as is evident from the change in monsoon patterns, receding glaciers, rising temperatures and recurrence of floods and droughts. Every year, about half of the two million wet tonnes of human excreta pollute water in Pakistan.

Water-borne diseases are a leading cause of death and suffering in Pakistan. Overall, about 60 percent of people in Pakistan are suffering from one or more of the main diseases associated with inadequate provision of drinking water and improved sanitation. More than 53,000 Pakistani children under five die annually from diarrhoea due to poor water supply and sanitation. Overuse, increasing demand, pollution, poor management, lack of infrastructure and changes in weather patterns due to global warming are key reasons affecting the fresh water availability.

In his message for the Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said “The world is woefully off-course to achieve our goal of water and sanitation for all by 2030. Billions of people still don’t have safe water and toilets. We can all do something to accelerate change. As an individual or on behalf of an organisation, take action today.“

The writer is a playwright and freelance journalist. He can be reached at and his blogging site:

Safe water crisis