COMMITTEE: UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
AGENDA ITEM: Eradicating the impacts of water insecurity and providing free access to clean water within the committees
Aquifer: a body of permeable rock which can contain or transmit groundwater.
Arid/Semi-Arid Climate: An arid area/climate has little or no rain; a semi-arid area or climate has little rain but is not completely dry
Diarrheal Diseases: Diarrheal diseases are a collection of diseases caused by multiple viral, bacterial, and parasitic organisms that share the common symptom of diarrhea. E.g. Rotavirus, Cholera, Typhoid
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations): a United Nations organization that aims to increase food production throughout the world and tries to make sure that people in poorer areas can get the food they need
Fertilizers and Pesticides: Fertilizers help in plant growth, pesticides work as a safeguard against pests.
GDP (Gross Domestic Product): the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.
Infrastructure: the basic systems and services, such as transport and power supplies, that a country or organization uses in order to work effectively
- Green Infrastructure: strategic use of networks of natural lands, working landscapes, and other open spaces to conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations
- Grey Infrastructure: human-engineered infrastructure for water resources such as water and wastewater treatment plants, pipelines, and reservoirs.
United Nations Human Rights Council: an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system. It is made up of 47 States. UN Human Rights Council is responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.
United Nations Water (UN-Water): an interagency mechanism that coordinates the efforts of United Nations entities and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues.
Water Security: the reliable availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods and production
Water Stress/Water Scarcity: An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity.
Water Supply: the water that is provided and treated for a particular area
“There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people – and the environment – suffer badly.” World Water Vision Report
70 percent of our body is water. 70 Percent of our world is also water. So it is easy to think that water is safely accessible for everyone. However the truth is different. Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, and two-thirds of that is frozen or unavailable.
Water security can be defined as access to sufficient safe water at all times and by all individuals. The concept of “safe” water requires more than one standard. The water should be sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable.
Water scarcity and insecurity is both natural and human-made. Actually there is enough freshwater on the planet for the world population (7.8 Billion) However water is not evenly distributed on the world. Some places are drier than the others. Industrial pollution and careless use of water is making the matters worse. Much of the water is polluted or ineffectively used.
Due to the causes stated, 1.1 billion people lack access to water and 2.7 billion experience water scarcity at least one month a year. About one fourth of the world population may face a water crisis soon. Many people don’t have a household water connection. These people, in particular women and children, must spend time to get water.
Clean freshwater is essential for human life. Human beings cannot live without water and if the water is polluted it can cause serious even deadly diarrheal diseases. Thus, water security is directly linked to human rights. In a report by the World Economic Forum, the water crisis is stated as the number four global risk in terms of impact to society.
Water insecurity and water stress are not new phenomena as they have got natural origins as well. However it has got worse in the past century. UN is aware of this and has been taking actions about the issue for years. However more has to be done.
There are many possible solutions for the problem of water insecurity. These include education, effective water use and cleanse techniques and technologies, reducing pollution, decreasing use and more. Many of the solutions are cost effective. The new WRI research found that securing water for our societies by 2030 could cost just over 1% of global GDP —about 29 cents per person, per day from 2015-2030.
Water problems have got more than one reason. Some of these reasons are human-made while others are natural. With this information in mind, water scarcity can be examined under two general types: physical and economic.
Physical water scarcity is also called absolute water scarcity. It happens when the demand for water in one area is more than the water resources there. FAO estimates that around 1.2 Billion people live in areas of physical scarcity.
Physical scarcity is a huge problem especially in arid and semi-arid regions. For example Middle East and North Africa regions are hot and the water supply is low. Watersheds in arid and semi-arid regions are home to more than 1 billion people. Twelve out of the 17 most water-stressed countries are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Physical scarcity does not have to be all year long. Some areas have got enough water supplies during certain months of the year while not in the others. It is thought that around two-thirds of the world’s population lives in areas with seasonal water scarcity (scarcity for at least a month in a year).
The second type of water scarcity is economic water scarcity. It is mainly caused by a lack of water infrastructure in general or poor management of water resources. In economic water scarcity there is sufficient water but access is limited. The water may be polluted or unsanitary for human consumption. Economic water scarcity can also result from unregulated water use for agriculture or industry leaving not enough water for the general population. The FAO estimates that more than 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage worldwide.
Main reasons for economic water scarcity include conflicts, ineffective use/waste of water and pollution. Disasters and conflicts have an impact on water resources. Water quality, quantity or both are reduced in these areas. In conflict or disaster zones, access to water supply and sanitation services can be inequitable and difficult.
Water pollution comes from many sources including pesticides and fertilizers untreated human wastewater, and industrial waste. Sometimes the effects are immediately visible such as when the harmful bacteria from human waste pollute water and make it unsafe to drink or to swim in. Other times the effects are slowly building up such as in the building up of toxic substances from industrial processes in the environment.
Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s accessible freshwater, but some 60% of this is wasted due to leaky irrigation systems, inefficient application methods as well as the cultivation of crops that are too thirsty for the environment in which they are grown. Over-pumping of aquifers, poor drainage and high evaporation rates which concentrate salts on irrigated land reduce productivity over the longer term. Fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, as stated above, also cause pollution. With growing crops that are suitable for the environment, supporting organic farming and creating more effective water management systems in the agriculture, the problem can be reduced.
In places, where there is little rainfall or limited access to surface water, reliance on aquifers is commonplace. If the rate of withdrawal from the aquifer exceeds the rate of natural recharge, this can threaten future water supply. It is estimated that a third of the world’s largest aquifer systems are in distress.
Overall, people facing water scarcity can be mainly grouped under these four categories:
1) Living in Semi-arid rural areas, away from principal water supplies (e.g. parts of north-western China and the Sahelian countries)
2) Living in areas of high risk of drought or flood (e.g. parts of Bangladesh or Brazil) (In these areas productivity potential may be high but extreme weather phenomena generates high risks for water insecure households.)
3) Fragile watershed hillsides (e.g. Laos and Vietnam)
4) Urban Slums
For human survival, healthy ecosystems and sustainable development; water is critical. For a healthy life every individual needs to have access to safe water supplies. However, this is not the reality of our world today. Since 1900 drought has affected more than one billion people. Globally, 785 million people lack access to clean drinking water.
In 2017, 2 billion people worldwide could not access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets. 673 million people still practiced open defecation. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, at least 1.2 billion people worldwide are estimated to drink water that is not protected against contamination from faeces. Even more people drink water, which is delivered through a system without adequate protection against sanitary hazards. In 2017, 80 per cent of wastewater flowed back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.
Women and children are worst affected of this water problem. Children are more vulnerable to diseases of dirty water and women and girls often bear the burden of carrying water. Unclean water and poor sanitation are a leading cause of child mortality. According to WHO/UNICEF-2019 297,000 children under the age of five die every year from diarrheal diseases. These are mainly caused by poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water.
At childbirth, lack of sanitation, clean water and proper hygiene contribute to high rates of disease and death among mothers and newborns. The average woman in rural Africa walks six kilometers every day to get 18kgs of water.
Although water stress is important, it is just one dimension of water security. The results depend on management of the water. Even countries with relatively high water stress have effectively secured their water supplies through proper management. It’s clear that even in countries with low overall water stress; communities may still be experiencing extremely stressed conditions.
For water security, it is necessary for the water to have certain conditions. The water needs to be sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable.
Sufficient: The water supply must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 liters of water per person per day are needed.
Safe: The water required for each personal or domestic use must be free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards. So that it doesn’t pose a threat to a person’s health. Measures of drinking-water safety are usually defined by national and/or local standards for drinking-water quality. The “World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking-water quality” provide a basis for the development of national standards.
Acceptable: Water should be acceptable in color, odor and taste.
Physically accessible: Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 meters of the home and water collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.
Affordable: Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income
HISTORY OF THE PROBLEM AND PREVIOUSLY TAKEN ACTIONS
Water has been unequally distributed throughout history however human actions and industrialization made the matter worse. Water sources have been wasted in the past centuries. About half of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed since 1900. A classic example of this problem is the shrinking of the Aral Sea.
Here is a timeline of the Water Insecurity Problem and previously taken actions:
1700s to 1800s: Industrialization leads to increased urbanization in England, highlighting the need for clean water supplies and sanitation.
1800s: Water shortages first appear in historical records.
1854: Dr John Snow discovers the link between water and the spread of cholera during an outbreak in London.
1977: The United Nations Water Conference
1993: The U.N. General Assembly designates March 22 as World Water Day.
2000: The U.N. member states set Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for development progress, including a 2015 target to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
2003: UN-Water was founded as coordinating platform for issues of sanitation and fresh water access.
2005: Thirty-five percent of the global population experiences chronic water shortages, up from nine percent in 1960.
2005: UN member states prioritise water and sanitation development in an International Decade for Action (2005-2015) called “Water for Life”.
2010: The MDG’s clean water access target is achieved five years ahead of schedule. More than two billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990.
2010: The UN General Assembly recognises the right of each person to have adequate supplies of water for personal and domestic use that are physically accessible, equitably distributed, safe and affordable.
2013: The UN designates 19 November as World Toilet Day to highlight the global issue of billions of people left without access to proper sanitation.
2015: About 2.6 billion people have gained access to clean water in the last 25 years, and about 1.4 billion gained basic access to sanitation since 2000. The UN member states sign on to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – successors to the MDGs that promise clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.
2018: Worldwide, 2.1 billion people still live without safe drinking water in their homes and more than one billion people still have no choice but to defecate outside.
2018: Water Action Decade (2018-2028)
UN’s plan and objectives for the Water Action Decade can be reached through the link below
Actıons for water security should have at least one of the purposes below:
- Delivering safely managed drinking water
- Delivering safely managed sanitation and hygiene services
- Treating industrial wastewater.
- Reducing nutrient loading to acceptable concentrations.
- Bringing water withdrawals in line with water demand while also considering the environmental flow rates.
- Creating more effective management of water
Solutions for water insecurity can be grouped under three main categories: Education, more effective/less wasteful use of water, and reducing the pollution.
Possible solutions include:
- Drilling, developing, and repairing wells
- Promoting healthy hygiene practices through education.
- Increasing agricultural efficiency:
- Investing in grey and green infrastructure
- The preservation and restoration of ecosystems that naturally collect, filter, store, and release water, such as wetlands and forests,
- Policies that support organic farming and other sustainable farming practices.
- Educating farmers about potential water loss, setting clear water-use reduction targets, and funding irrigation improvements and water-conservation technologies
- Desalination (Turning salty water into not salty water) (Warning: Existing desalination technology requires a substantial amount of energy, usually fossil fuels. So it is expensive and not eco-friendly.)
- Wastewater treatment.
- Rainwater harvesting
Clean water, combined with basic sanitation and hygiene education, is one of the most effective ways to improve lives and fight extreme poverty. Here are a few benefits:
Families become healthier. Children are better nourished. Children can attend and excel in school because they don’t have to walk long distances to get water. Family income improves: Families spend less money on healthcare and are better able to pay for things like school supplies and fees.
As the Human Rights Council, we are responsible for the worldwide threat of water stress and insecurity. We need to take the needed actions and help the world become a better place.