by Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF, RWSN Chair
Accessibility. Availability. Quality. These are the three criteria that define a safely managed drinking water service under SDG 6.1. While accessibility and availability were known challenges for rural water supply services, the scale of the problem of rural water quality was not well quantified, until last year’s WHO/ UNICEF JMP Update Report 2017 put the water quality issue firmly on the map for rural water supply. While 73% of the world’s population drinks water free from contamination bacteriological and chemical contamination, only 55% of the world’s rural population – just over half – drinks safe water. Furthermore, estimates for water quality are only available for 45% of the global population. The JMP report notes that these data suggest that levels of compliance with drinking water standards are likely to be low in developing countries.
RWSN addresses many aspects of rural drinking water services, but there had not been a specific focus on water quality thus far. Given the importance of this issue for rural people, RWSN is proud to announce a new partnership with The Water Institute at UNC Chapel Hill to tackle the quality of water in rural water services. According to Professor Jamie Bartram (Director, The Water Institute at UNC), “this partnership will leverage the powerful RWSN platform and The Water Institute’s expertise in water quality and management to bring up to date evidence and methods to the members of the network. As a new Topic Leader in Mapping and Monitoring, The Water Institute aims to bring evidence and practice closer by facilitating lively discussion and producing practical guidance on Safely Managed Water.” You can find out more about this new partnership in the section below.
Accessibility and availability of drinking water also remain critical issues for rural populations. Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households with water off premises, and 263 million people use water supplies more than 30 minutes from home. Likewise, many rural water systems face operation and maintenance challenges that can leave rural populations with long downtimes when spare parts or skilled technicians are not available to make the repair.
RWSN’s Themes and online communities remain active on addressing Accessibility and Availability as part of the new strategy 2018-2023. The Sustainable Services Theme explores service delivery models to ensure continuity and quality of services. The Sustainable Groundwater Development Theme is concerned with the overall availability of the water resource itself, while the recently-launched topic on “Solar Pumping” allows exchange on advances in solar pumping technologies and field experiences of their use and management. The Mapping and Monitoring Theme is looking at how to reinforce in-country monitoring systems of water services. The Self-Supply Theme helps define the enabling environment that enables people to invest in and improve their own water systems. And cutting across all topics, the Leave No One Behind Theme emphasizes the need to have an inclusive approach to rural water, taking gender, disability, and marginalised populations into account to fulfil the human right to water.
Next year’s World Water Day theme will be “Leaving No One Behind.” Now more than ever, Rural Water practitioners will be on the forefront to take up this challenge and address these persistent inequalities so that rural populations everywhere can drink water that is safe, available when needed, and accessible close to home.