5 reasons why access to clean water matters
Read Time: 6 minutes
August 21, 2023
Clean water is an essential resource for communities around the world.
People use it for drinking, bathing, cooking, growing food and much more.
But in some countries, especially in rural settings, people face challenges accessing the water they need to live healthy lives.
Just how many people lack access to clean water? What are the barriers? What can we all do about it?
Here are five things you should know about clean water access and why it’s so important.
No. 1: 2 billion lack access to safe drinking water
Yes, progress has been made in recent years to provide more people access to clean water.
Between 2015 and 2020, for example, more than 100 million people gained access to safely managed drinking water — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as drinking water from an improved source that is accessible at home, available when needed and free from contamination.
But 2 billion people still lack access to safe, available water at home. Hundreds of millions also lack basic drinking water — water that can be collected from a safe source in under 30 minutes. This is due in part to water challenges like scarcity, pollution and degraded water ecosystems, according to the United Nations (UN).
No. 2: Water access, sanitation and hygiene go hand in hand
People need safe water to drink, wash their hands and cook their food. That is why access to clean water as well as sanitation and hygiene — together called “WASH” — go hand in hand.
When communities do not have all three, the consequences can be dire. They may miss school, succumb to disease or even be at risk of death. According to the UN, in 2022 alone:
- 2.2 billion people lacked safely managed drinking water
- 3.5 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation
- 2.2 billion people lacked basic hand washing facilities
That is why UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 focuses on achieving universal access to clean water and sanitation. In fact, the UN says progress needs to increase fourfold or else billions of people will lack access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.
No. 3: Water access and the climate crisis are linked
The challenges with climate change — the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns primarily caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels — and water access are interwoven.
On one hand, climate change can worsen water challenges. About half of the world’s population faces water scarcity for at least part of the year — numbers that are expected to increase due to climate change and population growth, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
On the other hand, practices that improve water quality and availability can help build climate resiliency. Providing access to water supply and sanitation systems that can withstand climate impacts could save the lives of 360,000 infants per year, according to the UN.
No. 4: Water creates ripples of change for communities
In southwestern Ghana, where 11% of people drink from unsafe water sources, a local cocoa farmer spends less time walking long distances to gather clean water — and more time growing food — thanks to a new mechanized water supply system in his Nzema Nkwanta community.
In a neighboring community, a 12-year-old student no longer has to miss school to carry water, thanks to a new community water well on the school grounds. “Now that we have proper water supply in our school, I am happy,” says the student, Obaa, “because I can now concentrate on my studies and not worry about fetching water.”
These are two examples of how access to clean water can create ripples of change in communities where it is needed most. It can help build climate resiliency, improve farmers’ livelihoods and support women’s empowerment in communities where women and girls are responsible for collecting water for their families.
No. 5: We need water to grow the world’s food
About 70% of the world’s fresh water is used to produce the food we eat.
In fact, producing one person’s daily food requires between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of water, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
And our population is growing — which means farmers will need more water to grow food that feeds more people.
However, only a small percentage (0.003%) of the world’s water can be used for agriculture (as well as for drinking and hygiene), and farmers cannot access all of it, according to the FAO. In addition, some regions of the world are short on water while others lack the infrastructure or other means to access it.
All of this puts additional pressure on farmers to increase productivity while conserving water and protecting this important natural resource.
How Cargill works to provide clean water access
To help tackle water access challenges, we focus on enabling improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation, with the goal of reaching 500,000 people in priority communities by 2030. To do this, we partner with organizations like Global Water Challenge and CARE to help provide water access in Brazil, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and West Africa.
Here are some ways we’re helping with water access today:
- Partnering with Global Water Challenge to launch new projects in Brazil that are expected to help more than 40,000 people with access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and other socio-economic benefits beyond water access, including empowering nearly 10,000 women.
- Providing water access to farmers like Stephen Akubila and his community in Ghana as part of Cargill Currents, our partnership with Global Water Challenge to support WASH access and enhanced water security for 150,000 people across Brazil, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, India and the U.S.
- Partnering with international development organization CARE to improve WASH access in Indonesia’s Serang and Bone districts (see video below) — leading to more students reporting regular handwashing, a three-fold decrease in student absenteeism due to diarrhea and more functional latrines in schools. It is one example of how we are building more sustainable supply chains across our food system.
Beyond water access, sanitation and hygiene
As a connector of the food system, Cargill has the unique ability to develop water solutions that can make an impact on a large scale. Our global ambition is to enable a water positive impact in our operations, supply chains and communities by 2030.
Our commitments are:
- In our operations: Implement water stewardship practices at all 72 priority facilities by 2025.
- In our supply chains: Enable restoration of 600 billion liters of water and reduction of 5,000 metric tons of water pollutants in water-stressed regions by 2030.
- In our communities: Enable improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation, reaching 500,000 people in priority communities by 2030.
Learn more about our water sustainability priorities.