Water stressMany countries around the world face water stress, especially in arid regions. The Middle East is home to some of the most water-stressed countries in the world such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, whose lack of water resources has resulted in a reliance on desalination plants. While desalination helps substitute the lack of freshwater, the process is incredibly energy-intensive and often environmentally problematic.
Singapore also lacks natural water resources and has long relied on neighboring Malaysia for supplies. But in a bid to become water independent, Singapore has developed an advanced system that turns sewage into clean, drinkable water that can meet 40 percent of demand. Recycling wastewater is seen as one possible solution to the global freshwater crisis. Others include a complete change in consumption habits, improving irrigation and agricultural practices, and reducing corporate water footprints.
Water inequalityWhile access to water and sanitation are basic human rights, water inequality is a major issue worldwide. Approximately two billion people lacked safely managed water in 2020, despite a reduction since 2015. Although the number of people without basic drinking water services has reduced by more than 30 percent over the past two decades, there were still 771 million people worldwide that lacked basic drinking water services in 2020. More than half of these people lived in Sub-Saharan Africa. While the number of people without such services has decreased in most regions since the turn of the century, they have increased by an estimated 40 million in Sub-Saharan Africa. Just 30 percent of the Sub-Saharan African population had access to safely managed drinking water, with 16 percent still getting their drinking water from unprotected wells or springs. In comparison, most of the drinking water in regions such as Northern America and Europe was safely managed. Unsafe water sources can exacerbate malnutrition and are one of the leading risk factors for infectious diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and polio.
The varying access to water worldwide also creates considerable gaps in basic hygiene access. Nine percent of the global population had no access to basic handwashing facilities at home in 2020. Again, the largest proportion of the population affected by this is in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than half the populations of many countries in Africa have no handwashing facilities at all, such as Rwanda, where 86 percent of the population lack these facilities. Nevertheless, access to water, sanitation, and hygiene are improving on a global scale and are likely to continue under the scrutiny of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which aims to increase clean water access and improve sanitation services.