Be honest. How many times have you left the water running—while washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, or watering your garden—unconsciously wasting one of the world’s most precious resources and taking for granted the access to clean water that millions around the world struggle for every day?
In 2000, world leaders pledged to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In 2012, with 2.3 billion people having gained access to improved drinking water sources, the United Nations declared the access to water target met—but this fight is still far from over: 748 million people still remain without access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion people in developing countries lack access to adequate sanitation facilities.
Why is access to water and basic sanitation so important? Because without it, Canada’s international development efforts are doomed to fail.
Sometimes when we talk about development, we focus on the novel or ‘cutting edge’, neglecting some of the most fundamental issues facing people living in poverty on a day-to-day basis. This is why water and sanitation can often be overlooked in Canada’s international development programming. Yet, access to water and sanitation is a basic and essential prerequisite for health. Take, for example, the global efforts to combat childhood malnutrition. Studies have shown that unsafe water and inadequate sanitation accounts for 50% of global malnutrition. Why? Because without access to clean water and sanitation, children have a significantly increased risk of experiencing repeat diarrhoea or contracting intestinal worms. Why should we care? Because diarrhea kills more children each year than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.
Canada is a global leader in Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) and has a proven track-record for ambitious investments in MNCH, including the $3.5 billion investment announced by Prime Minister Harper at the Saving Every Women, Every Child Summit in May 2014. Water and sanitation, however, is blatantly absent from Canada’s international development priorities, a misstep that could serve to undermine the progress being made towards improving the lives of millions of women and children living without the basic necessities of life needed to thrive.
So, how can Canada ensure its continued impact on maternal, newborn, and child health around the world? By strengthening the links between our current development priorities and water/sanitation. If Canada’s MNCH priorities seek to integrate water and sanitation in the same way it incorporates nutrition, vaccines, and health systems strengthening, then Canada’s international development efforts will truly have a sustainable impact on the lives of the most vulnerable mothers and children around the world.