A boy waits at a water distribution point in Chennai, capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Image Credit: AP

Too many of the world’s people live with less water than they need. Estimates suggest that, globally, 844 million people lack access to safe water and 2.3 billion people lack access to a toilet. This distressing water crisis cuts across both urban and rural populations and so, as humankind faces the growing challenge of an abundance of water in some places yet a scarcity in others. Therefore, we must take collectively responsibility to seek innovative, equitable solutions that ensure a fair distribution of water resources.

Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is also directly and indirectly linked to several other SDGs, including, but not limited to: eradicating poverty, eliminating hunger, improving health and well-being, providing quality education, and promoting gender equality.

While water-related crises are not the only the result, it is clear that climate change has had an impact on the planet’s hydrological cycle by disrupting the frequency of precipitation and their seasons. This has made water management more difficult, as the predictable patterns of previous years become less and less reliable. Population and economic growth, as well as unprecedented urbanisation, are also significant and contributing factors to this challenge.

In the last decade, our news feeds have grown accustomed to breaking news reports on tremendous damage being inflicted on human life, critical infrastructure and agriculture by — creating new challenges for the global refugee crisis, individual nations’ development, and global food security.

On the one hand, we have countries investing millions in exploring space to find signs of water, on the other hand, this essential component for sustaining life remains a “world away” for the most vulnerable population, here on Earth.

- Dr. Han Seung-soo, former prime minister of the Republic of Korea

According to a 2016 study in Science Advances, 14 out of the world’s 20 megacities are experiencing water scarcity or drought conditions, with up to four billion people already inhabiting regions that are under severe water stress for at least one month of the year. As populations continue to rise, and unless something can be done, the stress on water supplies will only get worse. At the same time, disaster data from the UN also offers clear indications of a worsening trend of floods, which are now occurring more frequently, particularly along coastal regions and river valleys, and consequently affecting more people. Between 1995 and 2015, flooding accounted for more than half of all weather-related disasters, affecting 2.3 billion people and killing 157,000.

It is also worth pointing out that women are disproportionately affected in the global water crisis, as the onus of running a home often falls on them. In many countries, collecting water is typically entrusted to women or young girls, preventing them from going to school and engaging in economic opportunity that could benefit their communities and families.

It is saddening to note that in the 21st century, the struggle to obtain potable water remains a daily struggle for millions. On the one hand, we have countries investing millions in exploring space to find signs of water, on the other hand, this essential component for sustaining life remains a “world away” for the most vulnerable population, here on Earth. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to see such a denial of this basic need.

It is important that we remind ourselves that, as humans, we are not required merely to exist. We now live in an inter-connected global community that requires us to coexist and sharing the basic necessities of resources on our planet must become a top priority.

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Inspired by the values of the country’s founding father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE has designated 2019 as the ‘Year of Tolerance’. By seeking to bring together people from diverse cultures, countries and communities, the celebration of the ‘Year of Tolerance’ highlights how we should continue to broaden our horizons, employing greater empathy and consideration for the communities that are disadvantaged, set differences aside and develop strategies that consider creative solutions that will overcome the most damaging challenges of our lifetime.

While many of the challenges seem daunting, in the various global leadership roles I have been honoured to hold, I have been heartened to note that through a collective determination, it is possible to make a genuine impact. It is true that, internationally, our ways and approaches may often vary, but the unanimous acknowledgement of the global community — to address the SDGs — is testament to a collective commitment to fixing our most pressing challenges. As Vice-Chairperson of the Zayed Sustainability Prize Jury, I have seen this determination grow — first hand — and, over the years, this dedication from organisations and young people alike has continued to gather pace. It is heartening to note that while the dangers are real and worrisome, there are people rising to the challenges and offering solutions, not excuses, for a future all our children deserve.

We live in a historic moment, where we are all more likely than not, to be faced with the impact of water-related crises and climate challenges; the need for us to come together, with care and consideration and to cooperate has never been greater. Together we can make what may seem impossible, possible.

With just over a decade to go before we can assess the implementation success of the 17 SDGs, from 2015-2030, we still face many sustainability challenges. Complacency in our application and furtherance of the necessary actions needed must not waver. Commitments made today must provide the foundation for a solid platform tomorrow. One from which the next generation has an opportunity to fully integrate human and sustainable development — as a singular and indivisible approach.

Dr. Han Seung-soo is former prime minister of the Republic of Korea and vice-chair of Zayed Sustainability Prize Jury