United States Agency for International Development
Office of Press Relations
Gloria Steele, Acting Administrator
March 22, 2021
On World Water Day, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recognizes the importance of safe water and sanitation—the foundation for prosperous, resilient societies around the world. Without these essential services and the preservation of water resources, the global community faces more disease, conflict, gender inequity, food insecurity, environmental degradation, and economic decline.
This past year has been particularly challenging as COVID-19 continues to place extraordinary stresses on already fragile water and sanitation services. Basic preventive measures such as handwashing are an everyday challenge for 3 billion people around the world who lack water and soap at home. In particular, children who live in extremely fragile settings are three times as likely to lack basic water services even before COVID-19, while children under 15 who live in conflict zones are nearly three times more likely to die from diseases linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from direct violence.
A healthcare facility is not a healthcare facility without safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Yet globally, 2 billion people lack safe water access in healthcare facilities and 40 percent of these facilities lack hand hygiene at points of care. WASH in health facilities is fundamental to providing quality care, ensuring provider and patient safety, and implementing comprehensive infection prevention and control.
The vulnerability of water and sanitation services is not just a health concern, but also an economic concern. Globally, three out of four jobs in the workforce depend on water. Water and sanitation service providers are facing economic challenges, which can ultimately disrupt essential water services. Sustainable water resources are also necessary for protecting agricultural livelihoods, including livestock, and strengthening food security.
Effectively rebuilding economies will require resilient and high quality water and sanitation services as well as the protection of water resources. When water is more accessible, people spend less time and effort physically collecting it, meaning they can be productive in other ways. This is especially true for women and girls, who collectively spend an estimated 200 million hours per day collecting water, preventing them from pursuing educational and economic opportunities and increasing their vulnerability to gender-based violence.
As we respond to a COVID-altered world, USAID and its partners are not only restoring water services, but also strengthening community-level resilience to future shocks and stresses, such as those caused by climate change. As the United States affirms its commitment to address the ongoing climate crisis, USAID is supporting country-led efforts to manage and protect their water resources and prepare for extreme weather events. Since 2008, USAID has extended safe and long-lasting access to water to over 54 million people and sanitation to over 38 million people.
USAID is well on track to meet its 2022 goal—providing 15 million more people with access to safe water—and has already exceeded its goal of reaching 8 million people with long-term access to sanitation services.
Water and sanitation goes beyond just taps and toilets. Today, 3.6 billion people do not have access to sufficient water for at least one month per year. By 2050, that number will increase to more than 5 billion. With the mounting challenges posed by crises such as COVID-19 and climate change, USAID recognizes the urgency of strengthening the resilience of water and sanitation services and water resources management to improve the dignity of the most vulnerable.