This year’s theme for World Water Day is Water and Climate Change. The recent Australian drought and flooding in the UK and East Africa show how climate change is leading to extreme events that create both uncertainties and irregularities in water availability, with far-reaching impacts on human wellbeing and ecosystem health. In all cases, the poor and marginalized people are most at risk. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy will further heighten the existing vulnerabilities of the poor.
This year also marks ten years since the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council recognized access to safe drinking-water and sanitation as a human right. This right has now been incorporated into several national constitutions and has enabled many poor and marginalized people to demand access to water and sanitation. However, 2.5 billion people around the world still lack access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities, affecting their nutritional and health status. And, due to the narrow focus of the right to water on domestic provision, the wider challenges around accessing water for survival and livelihoods in the context of climate change are not being considered.
The current human right to water reflects a conventional sectoral division between water for drinking and domestic purposes, on the one hand, and water for productive uses and resource management, such as agriculture, industry, and subsistence or livelihoods purposes, on the other. This distinction is highly problematic from the perspective of local users for whom there is little sense in separating water for daily drinking and washing and water for small-scale productive activities that are crucial for everyday life. Breaking down the siloes across these divisions is even more urgent under the COVID-19 pandemic as access to handwashing facilities remains a challenge in many parts of the rural Global South. Considering available agricultural water sources for handwashing (combined with education materials on the benefits of handwashing and on keeping water sources free from faecal matters) and a overall more integrated assessment of water resources that can be repurposed for handwashing could make a difference for public health outcomes in these countries
Read more on the website of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy