Category Archives: Environmental Sustainability


Water crisis…coming soon, to a city near you!

Group of women in brightly colored clothes carrying water in jugs on their heads

Photo: Irish Aid

Often when we think about a lack of access to water, we get mental images of women and children spending half their day walking for miles through rural countryside to some distant water source. And that certainly is the case for many people throughout the world.

But with half of the world’s population living in rapidly expanding urban areas, the world’s cities are facing their own water crisis. The two main water concerns for urban areas are a lack of access to clean water and sanitation and increasing water disasters.

Rooftops of Mumbai slum

Photo: Kaustav Bhattacharya (Flikr)

Access to Water

Even though great strides have been made in access to water, population growth and urbanization is outpacing efforts to bring clean water to everyone. Inadequate infrastructure and increased pollution (from both industrial and human waste) are just two factors that make urban areas vulnerable to water problems. With just 5 years to go until the MDG deadline of 2015, 884 million people still do not use an improved source of drinking water, and 2.6 million lack access to basic sanitation!

Water disasters

The recent floods in Pakistan represent another major issue for urban areas. Water related disasters such as floods, tsunamis, droughts, and water born diseases and epidemics have escalated since the turn of the century. In fact, in just 40 years, the economic costs from such disasters has risen ten times!

Image of urban area

Photo: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Unplanned urbanization is outpacing city leaders’ ability to provide the needed infrastructure, and playing catch up is difficult and expensive. Despite water being a “gift of nature,” it takes money (and lots of it) to manage water resources (like watershed and river basin development, storage, risk management, etc), to create and maintain water services and utilities, and to develop, research and administer policies.

Funding for these expenses can come from either taxes, sales, or aid. But most funding only supports the creation of new assets and facilities, and ignores the management and maintenance of existing resources.  The estimated yearly investments for water and sanitation are $15 billion – half of what is needed to meet the MDG targets.

Cover of WWAP's Urban Water Briefing NoteTo highlight this issue, “Urban Water Management” will be the theme of the next World Water Day, coming up on March 22, 2011.  The UN World Water Assessment Program has released a briefing document, Water for Sustainable Human Settlements, which details many of these issues and the impact that urbanization is having on the world’s water.


Blog Action Day – Water!

This year I’ll be participating again in Blog Action Day on October 15, 2010. In case you don’t know, Blog Action Day is a day when bloggers around the world come together and discuss the same issue. The purpose, of course, is to bring awareness and generate discussion on a topic that impacts us all. This year, that issue is water!

But this issue is too important for just one day. So, for the next few weeks, leading up to Blog Action Day, I’ll be highlighting some of the major topics within this larger issue.

Logo for the Millenium Development Goal #7, Environmental SustainabilityIts a terrific choice, especially on the heals of the MDG Summit week last week in New York. One part of MDG7 targets water specifically: Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

The issue of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is one that affects all areas of development. Access to clean water affects child health, poverty alleviation, gender equality, maternal health… the list goes on and on. And each region in the world faces its own unique water issues. I’ll be covering these over the next few weeks, as well as looking at ways that media and communications can contribute to their solutions.

In the meantime, take a look at these two maps, from The first shows the world in terms of poor water quality, the second shows domestic water usage.

Map of the world, redrawn to indicate levels of poor water quality

Poor Water Quality

Map of the world, redrawn to indicate levels of domestic water usage

Domestic Water Usage