Happy World Water Day!

Water is at the root of everything. Our environment, socio-economic development, poverty reduction, and the fulfillment of the most basic human needs all depend on it.

Yet in 2013, about one-ninth of our world’s population -- 780 million people -- lack access to clean water. And about 3.4 million of these people die annually as a result.

So ten years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 as World Water Day -- a day for the whole world to focus attention on the importance of clean, accessible water.

Each year, a specific theme is highlighted. 2013 has been named the International Year of Water Cooperation. Water is a shared resource and its management must take into account conflicting interests. So this year, the United Nations is recognizing the importance of cooperation and using water as an instrument of peace. Water cooperation requires a multitude of factors to be considered -- including cultural, educational, scientific, religious, political, ethical, legal, social, institutional, and economic interests.

The cold hard truth is that...

  • Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness.
  • More people have a mobile phone than a toilet.
  • Diarrhea kills more children every year than malaria, AIDs, and measles combined -- about 1.5 million.
  • Half of the hospital beds in the world are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.
  • An estimated 10% of the global disease burden could be reduced through improved water resource management.
  • People living in informal settlements like slums often pay 5 to 10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.
  • An estimated 200 million hours are spent each day globally collecting water.
Women are almost always the ones responsible for finding and collecting water for their families -- not only for drinking but also for bathing, cooking, and cleaning. They can spend hours of their day walking long distances and carrying extremely heavy loads -- sometimes just for contaminated water that can make them or their family sick.

The huge time burden of collecting water means that this is time not spent at an income-generating job, caring for family members, or attending school. Simply eliminating the time spent every day collecting water in many parts of the world could in itself provide huge economic opportunity.

While we have made huge strides in providing clean, accessible water in the past decades, there is still a lot of work to be done. Today, one child dies from a water related disease every 21 seconds, but in 2009 it was every 15 seconds -- equaling about 1,656 children’s lives saved every day.

However, many families are still left with the “choice” of certain death from no water or possible death as a result of illnesses from contaminated water -- a horrible and unacceptable reality.

Here at Kiva, we have partnered with Sanergy in Nairobi, Kenya to provide safe, accessible, and affordible sanitation services to slum residents as well as economic opportunity. Sanergy sells their relatively cheap toilets to local operators, providing them with training and ongoing support. These franchisees in turn charge a nominal fee for local slum residents to use the toilets -- providing economic opportunity for the operator as well as significantly improving health and sanitation in the neighborhood. The waste is collected and properly disposed of daily -- and now Sanergy is converting this waste into economically valuable resources like electricity and organic fertilizer. Kiva loans are used to help operators buy their toilets upfront.

This is just one of the ways that Kiva is working to combat this global problem. We love that we can partner with institutions that provide clean water and sanitation all while continuing to providing economic opportunity. 

You can also celebrate this World Water Day by donating to causes like water.org that increase accessibility to clean and safe water where it is needed most or making a water and sanitation loan to a borrower on Kiva

Have questions about Kiva's efforts to expand access to clean water? Send them to blog@kiva.org!

About the author

Emily Wakefield

A native of southern California, Emily is a recent graduate from Santa Clara University where she studied Economics and Spanish Studies. The highlight of her college experience was the semester she spent abroad in Granada, Spain. She knew she wanted to pursue a career in economic development after reading Half the Sky. Emily will be joining the Marketing and Communications team as a Blog and Social Media Intern and is especially excited to find new and creative ways to spread Kiva’s work to more people. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, listening to country music, and re-watching Friends episodes for the millionth time.