water-share

The World’s Water Access in One Visualization

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Water Access Infographic

The World’s Water Access in One Visualization

View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

Water is the world’s most vital resource. Beyond its basic functions of sustaining life, it’s also a precious commodity – one that billions of people in the world have trouble accessing.

Today’s infographic is from Raconteur, and it puts the global issue of water access into staggering perspective. It’s a two-fold problem: safe drinking water is hard to come by, while basic access to sanitation is less common than you’d expect.

Diving into Drinking Water

It’s easy to take water for granted when it comes out of every tap in developed economies, but the stark reality is that 2.1 billion people worldwide can’t get safe water this way.

Many people in the world spend hours waiting in long lines, often multiple times a day, for community-shared water, or, they have to travel to distant sources just to collect it.

World regions are categorized according to five classifications for drinking water access.

drinking water classifications

Here’s a breakdown of how each region fares.

RegionSafely ManagedBasicLimitedUnimprovedSurface Water
North America99%--1%-
Western Europe96%3%-1%-
Eastern Europe and Central Asia84%11%2%2%1%
Middle East and North Africa77%16%4%2%1%
Latin America and Caribbean65%31%1%2%1%
Eastern and Southern Africa26%28%18%16%12%
West and Central Africa23%40%10%20%7%
East Asia and Pacific-94%1%4%1%
South Asia-88%4%7%1%

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a dire exception to the safely managed water rule in North America. After a change in river source in 2014, insufficient water treatment resulted in lead from pipes leaching into the drinking water, affecting over 100,000 residents.

The Struggle of Sanitation

managed sanitation classifications

The invention of the toilet in 1875 is credited with saving one billion lives to date. Yet, poor water hygiene and its associated diseases claim the lives of roughly one million people annually.

This is because roughly 4.5 billion people still don’t have access to a toilet, with the problem being particularly acute on the African continent. More than half of the population in Eritrea (76%), Niger (71%), Chad (68%) and South Sudan (61%), for example, do not have any access to even basic sanitation.

Every Drop of Water Counts

According to the World Economic Forum, water has been a top-five global risk for the past seven years.

From an economic perspective, it’s easy to see why:

  • An estimated $260 billion is lost globally each year from the lack of basic water and sanitation.
  • Almost $18.5 billion in benefits can come from universal access to basic water and sanitation.

Securing water access has profound consequences. For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there’s a $4 return from lower health costs, higher productivity, and fewer preventable deaths.

Fortunately, progress is being made on the global scale. Between 2001 and 2015, there’s been a 9% improvement in safe drinking water, while safely managed sanitation has risen by 10%.

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