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Access to water in developing countries

Clean, accessible water is critical to human health, a healthy environment, poverty reduction, gender equality, a sustainable economy, and peace and security, andyet over 40% of the global population does not have access to sufficient clean water. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, according to UN-Water. The lack of water poses a major threat to several sectors, including food security. Agriculture uses about 70% of the world’s accessible freshwater. Developing countries are most affected by water shortages, flooding and poor water quality. Up to 80% of illnesses in the developing world are linked to inadequate water and sanitation. In many countries, pollution or rising sea levels are contaminating trusted water sources.

Water advances gender equality  

A lack of clean water , sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) disproportionately affects women and girls. Access to clean water and sanitation is essential for their physical safety and security, their social and economic development, and their basic, sexual and reproductive health, as well as their human dignity. Poor hygiene practices due to a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities during menstruation puts women and girls at risk for infection. The absence of latrines can hamper school attendance for girls and prevent women from working.  This may also cause women to wait until night to relieve themselves, which significantly increases the risk of physical and sexual assault. This repetitive cycle will lead to missed opportunities to actively secure their future. Women and girls often carry the heavy burden of household tasks, including as the primary managers of natural resources, particularly for household use and small-scale agriculture. The long distances covered to collect water and firewood further exposes women and girls to various physical safety and security risks. The number of hours devoted daily to these chores also prevents them from devoting time to their education, economic autonomy and community activities. They are key change agents in sustainable water management practices, yet they are excluded from the decision-making on location, management and maintenance of water points. These examples demonstrate how promoting access to WASH is an important cornerstone in advancing gender equality.

Global efforts to address water issues

Together, countries are working toward the goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Water targets are included across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 specifically aims to ensure access to water and sanitation for all, setting out the following objectives for joint action:

Our support for water initiatives in developing countries

Water directly affects many issues critical to promoting sustainable development, including the economy, agriculture, health, trade, energy, and peace and security. As part of its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada supports sustainable water resources management and governance in developing countries, with a focus on women and girls. It aids efforts to increase access to safe water and adequate sanitation, including menstrual hygiene. Canada’s water programming contributes to health, education, food security and economic growth outcomes for the poorest and most vulnerable.  In addition to targeted projects, Canada’s WASH efforts are also mainstreamed into broader global health and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programming.

Here are just a few examples of water initiatives being supported by Canada.

The Government of Canada also provides institutional support to Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) to support global health and humanitarian innovations in low and middle income countries.  To date, over $2.5M of this funding has supported innovations that focus on menstrual health and hygiene. GCC seeks to tackle the many cross-cutting issues associated with menstrual health, including products, disposal, education, sanitation, service delivery and distribution networks.

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