Every 20 seconds, a child dies from diarrhoea.

Paying for water. Local residents in Ada, Ghana gather to collect water from a nearby community well. More than 2.4 million people die every year from diarrhea and other water-related illnesses because they don’t have safe, sustainable water and sanitation. This crisis persists, in part, because the financial services that could help vulnerable populations pay for water and sanitation remain largely unavailable to the poor. Photo: Gates Foundation.Despite water being fundamental to our existence, many people around the world still lack access to clean water. The enormity of the problem is underscored by its inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which challenges the global community to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

According to Professor Ben Braga, President of the World Water Council, 780 million people still live without safe drinking water and many more without proper sanitation. In an interview with UN Water, he said that Council’s priority was to “universalise the access to safe drinking water and sanitation and to incorporate the idea of water as an engine for social and economic growth.”

Similarly UN Water states that a coherent, coordinated approach is clearly required as water issues represent some of the most urgent development challenges of our time. It underscores the importance of managing freshwater sustainably so that there is enough for everyone to drink and be healthy, so that agricultural producers can provide plentiful harvests and industry can meet its requirements. It is not only a question of meeting our current needs, but with the challenges posed by climate change we will have to adapt and be prepared for increasing numbers and severity of water-related disasters.

According to Braga: “the issue of water and disasters has never received any attention from the UN system in developing the MDGs. The same for building resilience against climate change. We all know that the main impacts of climate change are going to be felt in the water sector.”

Children are among the most vulnerable victims of water-related diseases. UN statistics indicate that globally, diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and death, and 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities, together with inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water.

According to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, 2.5 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without even basic sanitation. Every year there are 1.5 million preventable deaths of children under 5 from diarrhoea.

2013 is the International Year of Water Cooperation. Its objectives are to raise awareness of the challenges facing water management and the potential for increased international cooperation.

Rommel Caringal is Products Director, VisionFund International, based in Nairobi Kenya.

VisionFund International has worked closely with its global humanitarian and relief charity partner World Vision through the provision of microfinance to support water projects and help embed them in the community. For example, VisionFund is providing microfinance loans to support a large scale project in Sri Lanka, the Rural Integrated Water Sanitation and Hygiene (RIWASH) Project established by World Vision, together with its project partners, the Canadian Institute for Development Assistance (CIDA), and the Australian Government (AusAID), in conjunction with the Sri Lankan government.

Microfinance services enable selected RIWASH beneficiaries to increase their income through starting enterprises that support the RIWASH project, for example in establishing boutiques selling spare parts for household water systems and promoting hygiene by selling associated items such as soap and shampoo. Over 400 families have received loans to start their own business enterprises and other income-generating activities.

VisionFund has a loan portfolio of over $430 million and currently helps more than 800,000 small businesses in 36 countries worldwide.

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