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Ryan Brown for UN Women
ImpactWater & Sanitation

Why Clean Water Efforts Must Focus on These 2.8 Billion People

The words “decentralized sanitation” might not sound like an exciting couple of words, yet they are of vital importance. And when Global Citizen and our partners saw them in the final recommendation document published March 14 by the High-level Panel on Water (HLPW) — a heavyweight body designed to drive urgent action around Sustainable Development Goal 6 — the organization knew the 215,000 calls to action from Global Citizens had made a historic impact.

The absence of this technical-sounding phrase in previous High-level Panel on Water recommendations risked world leaders working to achieve safe water for all, overlooking 2.8 billion people. Yes, that’s right — 2.8 billion people who live in impoverished communities with no pipes, running water or waste management systems to speak of — and thus often have no choice but to use “decentralized” sanitation systems, such as manual emptying of their pit toilets.

Take Action: The UN Must Prioritize Clean Water and Toilets for Women

And most critically it meant that the strategy laid out by the leadership panel was not going to reach these people and help fix the dire situation of sanitation in their communities which causes 1,000 child deaths every day, and forces women to walk up six hours a day searching for clean water for their families instead of attending school or earning an income.

Yet thankfully the high-level group convened by the United Nations Secretary-General and the president of the World Bank Group, consisting of 11 sitting heads of state and government and one special adviser, heard our call.

In essence, their parting words released today urged leaders across the globe to ensure their activities to tackle the sanitation crisis go beyond simply those with the privilege of access to sewerage sanitation, but also to ensure we meet the needs of the 2.8 billion going without today.

Read More: 23 Countries With the Best and Worst Water Supplies

This World Water Day also marks more important news for another marginalized segment of the population, that make up a mere 50% of the world: women. As it is the start of the Decade on Water, an initiative being led by the UN whose core focus will be addressing the challenges for water and sanitation for women.

A lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene impacts entire communities, but disproportionately hurts vulnerable groups like girls and women. Without access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, girls and women spend a total of 200 million hours a day collecting water for their families. This is time they could otherwise be spending at school, earning an income, and thriving to their full potential.

Girls also miss out or drop out of school because they lack the resources and information necessary to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity at school. And they face physical and sexual violence as a result — in India, the 300 million women who lack access to toilets and must therefore defecate in public fields or bushes, are twice as likely to experience rape.  In Nepal, where menstruation is highly stigmatized, girls are often forcibly isolated in “menstruation huts” for the duration of their periods, which exposes them to the dangers of animals and environmental conditions, and can be fatal for girls.

Read more: Yet Another Woman Died in a Menstruation Hut

These are just some of the negative consequences that women face daily through lack of safe water and sanitation, all of which the “Decade on Water” campaign seeks to turn the tide on. Yet the UN cannot do it without all of our help — including yours.

We invite you to stay with us over the next 10 years, so we can make ending extreme poverty a reality for all by 2030.