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Nearly 600 million children will live in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040 – UNICEF

2017-03-22

Poorest children will be most affected as climate change worsens an ongoing water crisis

Photos and video are available for download here: http://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIFDMEO9

TORONTO/NEW YORK, March 22, 2017 – Nearly 600 million children – or one in four children worldwide – will be living in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040, according to a UNICEF report released on World Water Day.

The report, Thirsting for a Future: Water and children in a changing climate, looks at the threats to children’s lives and well-being caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways climate change will intensify these risks in coming years.

“Clean, safe water is essential for children to grow and develop into healthy and productive global citizens,” said UNICEF Canada President and CEO David Morley. “Yet today, we’re failing a quarter of the world’s children by not ensuring the most basic component of their well-being. Clean water affects everything from a child’s health to their education and to their safety. Providing access to clean, safe water must quickly become a global priority before it’s too late.”

36 countries at extreme risk

According to the report, 36 countries are currently facing extremely high levels of water stress, which occurs when demand for water far exceeds the renewable supply available. Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice affect the quality and availability of water as well as sanitation systems.

Population growth, increased water consumption and higher demand for water largely due to industrialization and urbanization are draining water resources worldwide. Conflicts in many parts of the world also threaten children’s access to safe water. 

All of these factors force children to use unsafe water, which exposes them to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea. Many children in drought-affected areas miss out on a chance to go to school because of the time it takes to collect water. Girls are especially vulnerable to attack during these times.

“Water is elemental; without it, nothing can grow. But around the world, millions of children lack access to safe water - endangering their lives, undermining their health, and jeopardizing their futures. This crisis will only grow unless we take collective action now,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

The poorest and most vulnerable children will be most impacted by an increase in water stress, the report says, as millions of them already live in areas with low access to safe water and sanitation.

663 million people lack access to clean water

The report also notes that:

  • Up to 663 million people globally do not have access to adequate water sources and 946 million people practice open defecation.
  • More than 800 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • Globally, women and girls spend 200 million hours collecting water every day.

UNICEF calls for four urgent actions

“We commend Canada’s commitment of $2.65 billion to address the adverse effects of climate change in developing countries,” said Morley. “The government must now ensure that their investments reach the most vulnerable communities in the least developed countries, particularly children.”

The most urgent task ahead is for world governments and others to act now to halt the advance of climate change by curbing emissions and prioritizing renewable and sustainable energy sources. At the same time, we must also deal with the impacts of climate change on water sources, UNICEF said. The report concludes with a series of recommendations that can help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children. Such measures include:

  • Governments need to plan for changes in water availability and demand in the coming years. Above all, this means prioritizing the most vulnerable children’s access to safe water above other water needs to maximize social and health outcomes.
  • Climate risks should be integrated into all water and sanitation-related policies and services, and investments should target high-risk populations.
  • Businesses need to work with communities to prevent contamination and depletion of safe water sources.
  • Communities themselves should explore ways to diversify water sources and to increase their capacity to store water safely.

“In a changing climate, we must change the way we work to reach those who are most vulnerable. One of the most effective ways we can do that is safeguarding their access to safe water,” Lake said.

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Notes to Editors:

Thirsting for a Future: Water and children in a dangerous climate is the third in a series of reports issued by UNICEF on the impact of climate change on and its effect on the lives of children. The reports include recommendations for how to minimize these impacts and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on climate action. The other reports are Clear the Air for Children and Unless We Act Now

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.

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