The right to water and sanitation
Water is the source of life – vital for health, food and economic development. Without sufficient and affordable clean water and access to adequate toilet and washing facilities, people suffer a range of illnesses. As a result, they may be unable to work or attend school. Without water to grow crops people may go hungry. Without health and education people have less chance of earning an income and become trapped in a brutal cycle of illness and poverty.
Every person has a right to sufficient water for personal and domestic uses (between 50 and 100 litres of water per person, per day), which must be safe, acceptable, affordable (water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income), and physically accessible (the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes).
Access to water
People's ability to obtain enough water for their needs is dependent on many overlapping factors. Crucially, where people live affects how much water is available. Climate and physical factors such as landform and soil types determine the rainfall and the amount of water that can be collected. The number of people who need to share the water and the amount of infrastructure required to collect and distribute it also influences the amount and quality of accessible water.
Water may be available through rain collected in rivers, lakes, dams or tanks and distributed by pipelines. It may be drawn or pumped from underground in wells or standpipes. Waste water may be collected and treated for reuse (recycled). It may be delivered in bottles and, increasingly, it may be created from sea water (through the process of desalination).
The cost can affect people's ability to obtain sufficient water for their needs. Governments need resources to maintain the infrastructure through which water is distributed. People living in areas of higher rainfall with the money and resources to harvest water have better access than those in drier and poorer places.
As the population of the world increases and people become richer they use more water for hygiene and eat foods that take more water to produce. It is estimated that in the next two decades, water use will increase by 40%. By 2025 about 1,800 million people are expected to be living in countries or regions with 'absolute' water scarcity (less than 500 cubic metres per person, per year), and two-thirds of the world population could be under 'stress' conditions (between 500 and 1,000 cubic metres per person, per year).
Access to sanitation
Without a clean, safe toilet close to home, people are forced to live in an unhealthy and unpleasant environment. Having to go to the toilet in the open or sharing facilities with hundreds of others is extremely embarrassing and unsafe for everyone's health. Women and girls are especially disadvantaged because they often have to wait until it is dark, which can make them vulnerable to attack or illness.
Sanitation may be as cheap and simple as a protected pit latrine or as expensive and complex as a flush toilet with sewerage. Sanitation gives people, especially women and girls, dignity, privacy and safety. Clean, safe toilets and handwashing facilities at home and school help children's ability to learn. Improved health helps people earn a living. Effective sanitation also means the environment is safer and cleaner for all activities – children can play, food can be prepared safely and homes can be kept cleaner.
Cooperating for water access
Water in lakes, rivers and underground aquifers is shared among countries. What happens in one place affects people in another, so cooperating for its use and care is beneficial for everyone. In 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation raised awareness about the importance of cooperation to improve access to water.
Over the last 60 years there have been more than 200 international water agreements and only 37 cases of reported violence between states over water. Cooperative approaches to water management lead to improved economic, health, justice and environmental outcomes, as well as promoting understanding and peace.