As we move into 2021, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges that our planet faces. We must, therefore, refocus our attention on the interventions that simultaneously catalyse progress in multiple challenges. And there can be no stronger building block than clean water.
Whether used for potable (drinking) or non-potable purposes, clean water is our most valuable and fundamental resource, and ultimately underpins the success or failure of every other challenge that we face.
Yet we are perilously close to 2025, when it is predicted that half of the world’s population will not have reliable access to clean water, from California to Jordan to the South Pacific islands. Even my hometown of London, rarely thought of as a place lacking in water, is listed as the ninth global city at critical risk of ‘Day Zero’, and likely to experience serious shortfalls in the next five years.
By 2040, there will be a 40% deficit in the supply of water available compared with global demand. No individual, city or business is exempt from needing water as a long-term resource.
Therefore, whilst 2020 has thrown government, corporate and individual agendas temporarily off-course, we cannot afford to let the issue of clean water supply disappear from the global dialogue.
More importantly, we must not lose sight of the opportunity and positive progress that we can make when a reliable water supply is established.
Clean water first
The Sustainable Development Goals offer a simple way to visualise this. These 17 goals (in no order of priority) are the focal targets adopted by the signatories of the United Nations in 2015.
However, another way of viewing the 17 global challenges is, firstly, consider their reliance on clean water.
By prioritising accessible and reliable water supplies, we fundamentally increase our progress towards:
The world is still fatigued by the unique challenges of 2020, but we are buoyed by the positive global dialogues such as COP26 and the UN Decade for Oceans. This shows it is more important than ever to focus on high-impact interventions.
Reliable, accessible and sustainable supplies of clean water are the strongest foundation we have to ensure the long-term success of our other challenges. Without it, we are effectively building on sand and risk wasting precious time, financing and resources.
Access to clean water: this must be the place to start.