Water is vital to human life, yet not everyone has access to it. And even when they do, the cost of getting safe, clean water is not the same for all.
People living in poverty, with more limited access to safe water often pay more for lower quality water than wealthier people in areas with better infrastructure, UNESCO reports.
"Safe water and safe sanitation are human rights," said Ulla Burchardt, member of UNESCO's Germany board. "But for billions of people, these rights not realized."
More than 2.1 billion people around the world lack access to clean and available drinking water and 4.3 billion people don’t have access to safe sanitation resources, according to the report, which was released ahead of World Water Day.
The lack of safe water impacts marginalized groups more heavily, the report says. People who are a part of a marginalized communities due to sex, religion, ethnicity, age, or socioeconomic status are less likely to have access to safe water and adequate sanitation resources.
The disparity is easily discernible in many parts of Africa where about half the world’s population that lacks access to safe water resides. Only about a quarter of people have acces to clean drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa, where girls are twice as likely to gather water for their families than boys, which can make it impossible for them to attend school or study regularly. But the lack of access to water doesn't just cost poorer families more time than wealthier families who have water piped into their homes, often, it costs more money.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 60% of the urban population lives in slums,” said Richard Connor, the report’s editor-in-chief. “And for the most part, they don't have access to proper water and sanitation services. They can pay from 10 to 20 times more for their water than their affluent neighbors.”
Access to clean water is essential to helping communities break out of the poverty cycle because it is intertwined with many other aspects of life. With better access to clean water, people are able to grow crops, which can help to reduce hunger rates or be sold to generate income. Clean water can also prevent people from getting sick, which can result in lower health care expenses.
Unfortunately, the world is currently not on track to provide universal access to water and sanitation this by 2030, the target set out by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, according to UNESCO.
For more than 2 billion people around the world, drinking water sources are routinely contaminated with chemicals and fecal matter, which puts them at frequent risk of disease. For example, up to 143,000 people die each year from cholera and waterborne diseases like diarrhea are the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5.
The UN is encouraging officials to create policies that make water more accessible and affordable including giving rebates for tariffs on water, installing stand-pipes that can be shared in multiple households, and using rainwater harvesting in rural areas
"Improved water resources management and access to safe water and sanitation for all is essential for eradicating poverty, building peaceful and prosperous societies, and ensuring that ‘no one is left behind' on the road towards sustainable development," the report said.