There’s nothing more essential to life on earth than water. Yet there’s a global water crisis. People are struggling to access the quantity and quality of water they need for drinking, cooking, bathing, handwashing, and growing their food.
Significant progress has been made in making clean water accessible — the number of people who lack access to clean water decreased from 1.1 billion in 2000 to 771 million in 2020. In addition to people still in need of clean water, there are also many opportunities to multiply the benefits of clean water through improved sanitation and hygiene behavior change.
The United Nations recognizes the importance of addressing the global water crisis each year on World Water Day, March 22.
FAQs: What you need to know about the global water crisis
Explore frequently asked questions and facts about water, sanitation, and hygiene. Learn how you can help children and families who lack access to clean water.
- Fast facts: Global water crisis
- What are water, sanitation, and hygiene benefits for children and families?
- Why do you combine clean water with good sanitation and hygiene? What is WASH?
- If people have to walk so far for water, why don’t they move closer to where there is water?
- Why can’t people dig their own wells?
- How are women and girls affected by a lack of clean water?
- How much does it cost to empower one person with clean water?
- World Vision’s water work
- What are World Vision’s water goals?
- How can I help end the global water crisis?
- Timeline of World Vision’s water work
- Milestones of the global water crisis
Fast facts: Global water crisis
- 771 million people lack access to clean water. That’s 1 in 10 people on the planet.
- Women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours carrying water every day.
- The average woman in rural Africa walks 6 kilometers (about 3.7 miles) every day to haul 40 pounds of water.
- More than 800 children under 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and unsafe hygiene practices.
- 1.69 billion people live without access to adequate sanitation.
- 494 million people practice open defecation.
- The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) aims to provide universal access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.
Every child deserves clean water.
What are water, sanitation, and hygiene benefits for children and families?
An investment in clean water, combined with adequate sanitation and hygiene behavior change, is one of the most effective ways to improve people’s lives and fight extreme poverty. The benefits include:
- Families becoming healthier: Water, sanitation, and hygiene programs work together to powerfully prevent the spread of most illnesses and are one of the most effective ways to reduce child deaths.
- Children getting better nourishment: Clean water, sanitation, and hygiene help kids grow taller, smarter, and stronger. They get more nutrition from their food because they’re not sick. Families can use water to irrigate their gardens to grow more nutritious food year-round.
- Children attending and succeeding in school: When children don’t have to walk long distances to get water, they have more time to attend school and more energy to learn. This is especially important for girls, who most often spend their days collecting water for their families instead of focusing on school.
- Family income improving: Families can spend less money on healthcare and are better able to pay for things like school supplies and fees. Clean water is also used for income-generating activities like making soap, bricks, and shea butter, as well as watering livestock and gardens.
Why do you combine clean water with good sanitation and hygiene? What is WASH?
Supporting families with hygiene behavior change and sanitation facilities, such as latrines and handwashing stations, multiplies the health benefits of clean water by helping to reduce the spread of illnesses and diseases. Handwashing alone has been shown to result in children growing taller, stronger, and smarter. So intertwined are the issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene that they have been combined into one sector known in the global aid community as WASH.
If people have to walk so far for water, why don’t they move closer to where there is water?
Most people World Vision serves are farmers who depend on their crops or livestock to survive. They may be unable to purchase land in a new place, so moving isn’t an option. In addition, in areas with water shortages, water sources frequently change with the season, so people would have to move multiple times a year to be close to a water source. The best solution is to get a permanent clean water source near their home.
Why can’t people dig their own wells?
Sometimes, people can and do dig their own shallow wells to access groundwater. However, because these shallow wells are open and unprotected, they’re frequently contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and parasites and don’t provide clean water. Even if they’re initially safe, they can become contaminated from surface water runoff entering the well after it rains, which is particularly problematic when open defecation is common.
World Vision provides protected and permanent water sources using technologies best suited to each context where we work. We commonly build water taps from piped-water systems, where a clean water source (such as a drilled borehole or protected spring) is connected to a water point distribution network. In the case of drilled wells, the borehole area with a cement slab prevents contamination of the water source during rainfall. Before the water point is open to the community, the water is tested to make sure it meets safety standards.
The community is trained on how to keep the environment around the water point clean and equipped on how to maintain the system so that water continues to flow. This effort ensures that the community has a good water source that lasts.
How are women and girls affected by a lack of clean water?
Women and girls bear the greatest burden of the global water crisis because in the developing world they’re most likely to be responsible for hauling water to their homes.
- They spend an estimated 200 million hours collecting water every day.
- In rural Africa, the average woman or girl walks 6 kilometers — about 3.7 miles — to carry 40 pounds of water every day. This daily task saps her energy for other activities and robs her of the opportunity to spend this time with her family or to pursue school and income activities to improve their lives.
- Girls who attend school until adolescence are more likely to drop out when they start menstruating unless their school has clean water, latrines, sanitary supplies, and support for hygiene behavior change. Helping young women to manage menstrual health is not only about providing appropriate facilities, but also includes addressing social norms.
- At childbirth, the lack of clean water, sanitation facilities, and proper hygiene contribute to high rates of disease and death among mothers and newborns in the developing world. In areas where World Vision works, half of the health clinics don’t have clean water and 84% don’t even have basic handwashing facilities.
World Vision is accelerating our push to ensure health clinics have access to clean water, latrines, and handwashing facilities so moms can have safer deliveries.
How much does it cost to empower one person with clean water?
Our average cost for World Vision to help one person in need get access to clean water is $50 — a price that includes much more than clean water. It also ensures that a well or water point is maintained so it will last for generations. And by leveraging other resources, such as child sponsorship and local funds, each person who benefits from clean water is also trained and equipped to practice safe sanitation and hygiene.
World Vision’s water work
As the leading nongovernmental provider of clean water in the developing world, we aim to ensure that the most vulnerable children and adults, including those with disabilities, in rural areas with the greatest disease burden have access to clean water, improved sanitation, and hygiene behavior change promotion. Some of our accomplishments include:
- We are reaching one new person with clean water and one new person with handwashing behavior change programming every 10 seconds.
- In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided handwashing facilities at 14,175 schools and 4,940 healthcare facilities, and more than 9.4 million households also gained access to clean water from 2020 to 2022.
- More than 1,200 World Vision WASH professionals and thousands of development professionals live and work in communities worldwide to co-create lasting solutions.
World Vision’s work results in water that continues to flow. We invest an average of 15 years in a community, cultivating local ownership and training people to manage and maintain water points. An independent study by the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, one of the premier academic groups in water research, examined 1,470 water sources in 520 communities located in the Greater Afram Plains region of Ghana. The research report, published in 2014, showed that nearly 80% of wells drilled by World Vision continued to function at high levels even after 20 years, thanks largely to our community engagement model.
World Vision believes we can solve the global water crisis within our lifetimes. To do this, we:
- Drill and rehabilitate wells, develop piped-water systems, and create other vital water points
- Teach local community members how to keep water flowing
- Oversee the building of latrines and handwashing facilities
- Promote healthy hygiene practices through behavior change programming
What are World Vision’s water goals?
World Vision’s ambitious yet achievable goal is to equip all communities located within our project areas worldwide with access to clean water, adequate sanitation, handwashing facilities, and menstrual hygiene facilities, as well as hygiene behavior change promotion.
Our global WASH program specifically promotes the inclusion of the most vulnerable men, women, and children. It will ensure that people with disabilities, those affected by HIV and AIDS, and other vulnerable groups in each area are actively included and benefit from hygiene messaging and increased access to sustainable clean water and improved sanitation.
We believe through partnering with local governments, communities, and other humanitarian organizations, collectively we can achieve this goal. In 2022, World Vision reached 3 million people with sustainable sources of clean water and 3.3 million people with improved sanitation.
How can I help end the global water crisis?
You can help families in need get access to clean water as a supporter of World Vision. Since 2011, we’ve helped establish lasting access to clean water for 31.4 million people. Our goals for the future are even more ambitious — but achievable with your help.
- Pray: Ask God to pour His blessings out on families in need of clean water.
- Give: Help equip children and families with lasting access to clean water.
- Get involved: Walk, run, or roll World Vision’s Global 6K for Water on May 20, 2023, to empower children worldwide with clean water access. You can also make a long-term commitment to join Team World Vision in the race to empower children and families around the world with clean water.
Read how one grandmother and granddaughter are going on 11 years of raising funds for clean water.
Timeline of World Vision’s water work
1960s: World Vision begins small water projects.
Early 1980s: Severe droughts in Africa focus the world’s attention on the urgent need for clean, accessible water.
1985: World Vision begins water drilling projects in Ghana.
1990: World Vision increases its commitment to clean water, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation partners in the Ghana water effort.
2000s: We scale up water work
- 2003: Our West Africa Water Initiative extends drilling into Mali and Niger.
- 2005: West Africa’s 2,000th well is drilled in Ghana.
- 2006: Large-scale water work begins in Ethiopia.
- 2009: Large-scale water work begins in Zambia, including promoting safe sanitation and hygiene practices.
Read how Max Lucado encountered the realities of dirty water in Ethiopia.
2010s: We expand our reach and dig deep
- 2011: World Vision begins an intentional scale-up of WASH activities in 10 countries in Africa. The number of people with clean water access increases 20-fold when comparing 2010 to 2016.
- 2012: WASH programming begins in Honduras.
- 2013: WASH begins in India. World Vision and Procter & Gamble (P&G) celebrate a partnership that has provided 1 billion liters of purified water, hosting former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton to see the impact in Rwanda.
- 2014: A University of North Carolina independent study reveals that nearly 80% of World Vision wells in Ghana still function at high levels, even after 20 years. The 1,000th productive well is drilled in Mali. In December, the U.S. Congress passes Water for the World Act, prioritizing the provision of clean water and sanitation for the world’s most vulnerable people. World Vision starts reaching one person every 30 seconds with clean water.
- 2015: In September, driven by a $40 million gift to our water programs by Dana and Dave Dornsife, World Vision announces plans to reach one new person with clean water every 10 seconds by 2020 — with the vision of achieving universal water access everywhere we work.
- 2016: World Vision expands our WASH work into more countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, along with the Middle East, reaching 4.6 million new people with clean water.
- 2017: World Vision now reaches one new person every 10 seconds with clean water. In June, World Vision drills our 1,500th borehole well in Mali since 2003.
2020s: Ambitious goals
- 2020: Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, World Vision reaches our goal of helping 20 million people around the world get lasting access to clean water.
- 2023: We’re on track to make clean water available for everyone, everywhere we work in Rwanda.
- 2030: World Vision aims for 50 million people to have access to clean water and sanitation.
Learn more about World Vision’s water work.
Milestones of the global water crisis
1700s to 1800s: Industrialization leads to increased urbanization in Europe, 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.
1866: In the United States, there are 136 public water systems; by the turn of the century, there are 3,000.
1900: Since 1900, more than 11 million people have died from drought, and drought has affected more than 2 billion people.
1972: The U.S. Clean Water Act updates 1948 legislation to control water pollution and funds construction of sewage treatment plants.
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 is founded as a coordinating platform for issues of sanitation and freshwater access.
2005: About 35% of the global population experiences chronic water shortages, up from 9% in 1960.
2005 to 2015: U.N. member states prioritize water and sanitation development during International Decade for Action “Water for Life.”
2008: The U.N.-recognized International Year of Sanitation prioritizes health and dignity.
2010: The MDGs’ clean water access target is achieved five years ahead of schedule. More than 2 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990. The U.N. General Assembly recognizes 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 U.N. designates November 19 as World Toilet Day to highlight the global issue that billions of people still don’t have 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 access to basic sanitation since 2000. The U.N. 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: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres makes a global call to action for WASH in all healthcare facilities, citing how they’re crucial for preventing and reducing diseases. Without basic WASH services, health centers can contribute to more infections and preventable deaths for mothers and newborns.
2020: Globally, about 1.8. billion patients and health workers face a higher risk of COVID-19 infection and other diseases due to the lack of basic water and sanitation services at health services, according to WHO and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).