A cleaner, healthier world requires universal access to clean water

Lurking in the depths of almost every global problem, we find water. From health, to security, to economic development, and so many more.  


Water, though abundant, is scarce. Of all the water that exists on our planet, less than 0.5 percent is available for human use.  And, thanks to population growth and climate change, it is getting scarcer.


While tremendous progress has been made in recent years, much more needs to be done.

Today, water scarcity affects every continent, 771 million people lack access to safe water and 1.7 billion lack improved sanitation. Meeting SDG6 means getting both numbers as close as we can to zero, in just eight years.


With a challenge of this magnitude, it’s clearly far too late for warm words and incremental steps.  We need massive collective action, both to reverse the water crisis and to adapt to a hotter, more water scarce world.

The water crisis is a health crisis:


Water, in ways we often fail to appreciate, is health.…And, today, all over the world, billions still pay a severe health cost for poor water management.


According to UNICEF, 1 in 3 people globally do not have access to basic hand washing facilities, and more than 800 children die everyday from preventable diseases caused by poor water, sanitation, and hygiene.  


Lack of access to reliable fresh water sources causes people to store water in containers, creating habitats for vector-borne disease transmission.  Droughts force people to migrate in search of livelihoods and water, increasing the risk of illness increases as communities go without access to basic services.  And as climate change takes effect, rising sea-levels put people (and health systems) under even greater pressures.


In places where there is no access to water in the home, it’s often the job of women and girls to collect it. These long journeys, with heavy buckets, leave women vulnerable to physical and sexual assault.


It’s a universal problem affecting cities across the globe including Jakarta, Chennai, San Paolo, Cairo and Cape Town.  Even cities like London are affected.  According to experts, London is already reaching its capacity, and it is likely to face water supply problems and serious water shortages by 2040.


Partnering for impact:


At Reckitt, we’re working hard to be part of the solution, by reducing the water footprint in our operations and supply chain, driving water-conscious behaviour change with consumers through our brands, and investing in water access for communities to support health and hygiene. This work is at the heart of our purpose - to build a cleaner healthier world.


We have the incredible privilege of working in partnership with brilliant organisations like Water.org, and together, we’ve already helped unlock access to safe water and sanitation for more than 1.8 million people, across India, Indonesia and Kenya, through the provision of financing tools like micro-loans. Now we’re upping our ambition to 10 million by 2030, underpinned by our firm belief that access to high quality health, hygiene and nutrition is a right and not a privilege.


This week, at UN Water conference, we were incredibly proud to join with partners including Starbucks, Ecolab, Gap and the U.S. Government to launch the WaterEquity Global Access Fund IV. Together, we’ve committed $140million to help deliver access to safe water and sanitation for some of the most vulnerable people on our planet.


In Pakistan, rapid population growth, combined with extreme weather events driven by climate change, and exacerbated by inefficient infrastructure and water pollution. Reckitt is working with WWF Pakistan and government organisations, to replenish and conserve water resources in Karachi and Sindh. In 2022, we started to implement nature-based solutions, while raising awareness with local community leaders. This has including installing30 rainwater harvesting systems, 3 drinking water filtration plants, 3 ablution water reuse systems and a construction of a floating treatment wetland. In total, we aim to replenish around 15,000 m3 of water a year, while also demonstrating good water stewardship practice.


The water crisis is everyone's responsibility:


Governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector entities, and individuals all have a role to play in ensuring that access to clean water and sanitation is a reality.


We need Governments to invest in infrastructure and policies that promote environmental sustainability and equitable distribution of resources.


The private sector must develop innovative solutions that leverage technology and sustainable practices to provide affordable and accessible water and sanitation services.


Individuals must also play their part by adopting water conservation practices, using water responsibly, and promoting hygiene practices that reduce the spread of diseases.


Inaction is not an option. We’ve got just 7 years left, to make it happen.


Author: Patty O’Hayer, Global Head of External Affairs at Reckitt

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