World Water Day was one of the more exciting days I've had since I started working at the World Bank. We had a very special guest, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, come by to talk about water.
She came specifically to sign a memorandum of understanding which will increase cooperation between the World Bank and the United States government on issues relating to water. Secretary Clinton and the other speakers at the event presented some scary statistics that definitely convinced me that the world isn't doing enough to promote clean water and sanitation.
According to World Bank President Robert Zoellick, four people die each and every minute from illnesses caused by a lack of these services. Sadly, most of them are children. A startling 2.5 billion people, almost 40% of the earth's population, lack access to basic sanitation services, and 900 million don't have safe water.
Unfortunately, in many places the situation is actually getting worse instead of better. The world is in danger of missing the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of the global population without access to basic sanitation.
In many countries, such as Kenya, the percentage of the population that has access to clean water and sanitation is actually smaller today than it was ten years ago. A lot of the world's population is moving into cities, but they're doing it so quickly that cities can't keep up with the pace. Cities don't have the capacity, or the resources, to provide more services to incoming residents.
As with most issues in international development, poor people suffer the most. Since slums and poor neighborhoods don't have running water, they have to buy drinking water from private companies. They wind up paying up to ten times more for water than the rich people in their cities, or walking for up to three hours to access clean water. Poor people put their safety in jeopardy when they travel long distances. They don't have toilets or sinks where they live, so they are more likely to get sick since they can't wash their hands or dispose of human waste.
I think it's clear that we need to act, and we need to act fast. What do you think we can do to help the world's poor gain access to these vital resources?