Water Crisis

Water is Life

Water is an essential part of our everyday life. Though nearly 70% of the world is covered by water, only about 2.5% of it is freshwater. Even then, just less than 1% of the freshwater is easily accessible in lakes and rivers. Of the remaining freshwater, one-third is underground water supplies or wellsprings, while the other two-thirds are locked away in ice caps or glaciers.

When more people are competing for the same amount of resources, it naturally intensifies the competition. With the world population hitting 7.6 billion and keeps rising, even our water continues to be recycled through the atmosphere and back into our cups, the number of people facing different degrees of water shortage will also increase. Over the last century, the rate of increase in global water use is faster than the rate of world population growth.

With the growing population and rapid economic development in Hong Kong, even with a reasonable amount of rainfall, there were times when water demand exceeded its supply. The worst crisis occurred in 1963-64 when water was delivered only once every 4 days for 4 hours. The government took different measures to conserve water and to acquire new source of supply, such as importing water from mainland China. The annual Dongjiang water supply has fed almost 70 - 80% of Hong Kong's total demand since the late 90s. From 2018 to 2020, about 820 million cubic metres of water is to be transported to Hong Kong each year.

Growing up in Hong Kong, we seem to take water for granted when water flows at the flip of a switch. Although most of us might have experienced the inconveniences brought by occasional interruptions to water supply (e.g. water pipes maintenance), we are not aware of the possibility of future water shortages if we do not change our consumption habits. The amount of water people use is directly related to how accessible and how affordable it is. Affluent lifestyles make heavy demands on water.

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When asked how much water you use on a regular day, you will start counting the water you use for drinking, cleaning, bathing, or cooking, etc. However, if you think more carefully, you will realise that you are leaving more water footprint than you think!

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Take a look at this water issue and learn about some of the water-related problems faced by the world today. Learn how you can make a difference and spread the word!


Access to clean water is a human right for every man, woman and child, regardless of their economic circumstances or where they live. It's also a crucial factor in alleviating abject poverty.

Sustainable Development Goal

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According to a 2015 report by World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, 89% (that’s 6.5 billion) of the global population have access to an improved drinking water source, including protected dug wells, boreholes, rainwater collection and standpipes.

The same report also shows that approximately 844 million people still lack access to basic clean drinking water services and an estimate of 2.3 billion people still lack basic sanitation service, such as access to latrines.

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030 (UNDP 2015).

Goal 6 of the SDGs calls for universal access and sustainable management of water and sanitation facilities, which could largely be achieved as we dedicate ourselves to tackling inequalities in access between groups, such as rich and poor, rural and urban, or disadvantaged groups. The 2030 Agenda demands attention to issues of water quality and supply, improved water management to protect ecosystems and build resiliency. In pursuing these, we expect to see an improvement in other Goals, particularly those relating to health, food security, climate change, and resiliency to disasters and ecosystems.

Summary of Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

  • Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  • Achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene and end open defecation, especially for women and girls and other vulnerable people
  • Improve water quality by reducing all kinds of water pollution and encourage recycling and reuse
  • Implement integrated water resources management
  • Protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, rivers and lakes
  • Expand international cooperation and support developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes

A Source of Life or An Agent of Death?

Children have an inherent understanding of water's significance. Its abundance or scarcity shapes the quality of their lives. Clean water changes everything for a child from health, nutrition, education, to his or her future. In turn, bad water can rob a child of everything from health to his or her personal dream.

Health: Contaminated Water Makes Children Sick

Unsafe drinking water and poor or absent sanitation services are very significant contributors to child mortality, primarily through diarrhoea, but also through other infectious diseases such as pneumonia and cholera. According to WHO, every year, over 502,000 die of diarrhoea globally which are attributed to drinking contaminated water.

UNICEF also states that, every day, poor water, sanitation and hygiene issues claimed the lives of over 800 children under five.

Education: Girls Go the Distance

In many developing countries, much of the arduous duty of fetching water falls on girls. The tasks are time consuming and very labourious. Women and girls often spend hours walking to the water sources, and their journeys could be dangerous sometimes. When chained to such duties as well as other household chores, girls are often excluded from going to school. Please see the "WHO" section for further details.


Women and Children

In water-scarce communities, women and children often bear the brunt of water shortage. The World Bank (2018) states that “some water, sanitation, and hygiene issues are faced only by women because of their biological sex, whereas others are more influenced by gendered societal norms.”

Females in developing countries often assume the responsibility for getting water. They spend a significant amount of time and effort on water tasks. In some rural areas, one needs to travel a long way to reach the nearest water source; even it might just be a contaminated water pond. In some of its project areas, World Vision observes that it is common for women and girls to walk 5-6 km to fetch water. Their water buckets can weigh more than 20kg when filled!

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There was an African saying, "Walk a mile in their shoes and you'll know their story."
According to a UN report, the duty of collecting water often falls on the shoulders of women and girls in low-income countries. It is estimated that women and girls are responsible to fetch water in 8 out of 10 household where running water does not exist (WHO, UNICEF, 2017). In a 2016 UN calculation, women and girls together spend 200 million hours every day collecting water worldwide. Imagine the millions of hours put into economic productivity, it would have stimulated more growth in the community.

When a water source is shared by different villages, people will have to wait in line, spending even more time on their journey. At times of drought, some water sources may dry up, which will force women or children to go farther for water. If the water they get is contaminated, they bear even heavier burdens when they have to care for family members who become sick after drinking the dirty water. Under all these circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why many girls in developing countries are denied an education opportunity.


Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. Uneven distribution, water wastage and pollution, and unsustainable water management, all contribute to the growing water shortages.

Uneven Distribution

Communities living in poverty are denied clean water for many reasons.

Accessibility and quality: Many women and children in rural areas in developing countries have no choice but to collect water from unprotected or polluted sources like open wells or muddy streams, which might be their nearest water source.

Affordability: Due to the effects of wasteful agriculture, overpopulation and pollution, the quality and quantity of water supply in Pakistan have greatly shrunk. Climate change has also led to less rains. As a result, Pakistan has become one of the severely water-stressed countries in the world. In Karachi, the capital of the Pakistani province of Sindh, due to extreme water shortage, water mafia started appearing. As the city’s water board currently only provides less than half the water the city needs, many turns to the black market, or what they famously call the Water Mafias. These Water Mafias get water through illegal boreholes, or by stealing and selling city water. But because of extreme disparity in demand and supply, water in the black market is sold at least twice the official government rate. Many factories and businesses fight for water to operate, leaving the poor unable to afford clean water. (Source: The Telegraph, 2019)

Increasing Consumption

The increasing global population means more people sharing the finite water resources on earth. At the same time, there will be increasing demands for food which in turn will require more water in its production process. People's water consumption is more or less related to how easy it is for them to obtain water and its affordability. Rising affluence in some countries makes heavy demands on water as people develop water-intensive lifestyles, such as using more washing machines and dishwashers, or cleaning cars. Accelerating industrial development in developing economies also puts pressure on available water supplies.

Water Pollution

In poor, rural areas, most villagers are not aware of the importance of protecting clean water sources nor do they know how to. Practices like shared water sources by humans and animals can cause water to be contaminated by animal wastes. Whereas in rapid developing economies, the increasing number of industry and factory plants can worsen environmental pollution, especially when they are operated without proper measures for water saving and pollution control.

Climate Change: More Extreme Floods and Droughts

With the effects of global warming, the amount of water that the atmosphere can hold increases, which in turn can lead to more and heavier rainfall when the air cools down. In the sub-tropics, however, climate change is likely to lead to reduced rainfall in the already dry regions. The overall effect is an intensification of the water cycle that causes more extreme floods and droughts globally. Clean water becomes even scarcer during natural disasters. Drought sends people digging deep into dry riverbeds. While in floods, water may be everywhere but it is not suitable for drinking.


Today, 2.1 billion people still lack access to safe, readily available water at home.

See the map of WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation to find out where people lack clean drinking water.

How We Help

What World Vision is doing:

As an international relief and development organisation, World Vision focuses its work on three key areas:



Most of our development works in different countries build upon an Area Development Programme model (ADP). We work with local communities and stakeholders to identify their needs and layout a community development framework. The long-term goal is to empower the community, including sponsored children and their families, to become self-reliant.

Water and Sanitation – A Basic Community Development

With hundreds of millions of people still lacking access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities, World Vision has given priority to water and sanitation projects in many of the ADPs. Often times, community members also share similar views on the need and urgency to tackle these issues. Below are some examples of our projects, grouped into two major areas:

1. Water Supply & Access

In many developing communities, women and girls spend a lot of time travelling a long way to fetch water, which are usually very dirty. One of the ways to obtain clean water is by drilling a deep hole into the ground to extract natural water resources. In Zambia, 14-year-old Christopher tells the before and after of having a borehole in his community.

"Many people, including children, died of dysentery, diarrhoea and cholera because of drinking dirty water from hand-dug and unprotected wells or ponds of rain water. The water was most likely contaminated because we found rotting frogs and lizards, and animal waste in it!"

"Now that we have clean water from a borehole drilled by World Vision, we suffer less from diseases. Access to clean water has improved hygiene practices, e.g. people can now bath daily, wash clothes and utensils. Health improvement allows children to attend school regularly and assist parents with chores." Clean water can also benefit agriculture, promising crop yield all year round. This can improve family livelihoods and, in turn, nutrition for children.

Besides drilling boreholes, World Vision works with local villagers to construct water pipe systems, water storage tanks and water pumps to improve water supply. Community's involvement and ownership is very important.

Large Water Storage Tanks
Some places are seasonally dry but they are not completely without rain, the problem lies in the insufficient amount of rainfall. By helping villagers collect rainwater, purify it and properly store it in a safe container, this can create a more stable water supply throughout the dry periods of the year.

Water Pipe System
Some water sources are located on mountains. By installing proper water pipelines, mountain water can be channeled to nearby communities. World Vision has launched projects that use gravity fed water systems to bring water to dry lands, turning them into arable lands for farmers. For example, in southern Ethiopia, some lands that were once abandoned have now become great sources of food supply!

Hand Pumps and Mechanised Solar-powered Pumps
Hand pumps or mechanised solar-powered pumps are installed and operated to provide water for small communities to semi-urban settings of more than 10,000 people.

2. Hygiene and Sanitation

Community Empowerment
World Vision doesn’t just provide water and sanitation infrastructure, we also work alongside the people we serve so that they can maintain the facilities once we are gone. After facilities are built, teams of community members will be recruited and trained, and financial structures will be set up to pay for the expenses incurred, so that the facilities can be maintained well to create long-lasting impact on the community. Through interactive engagement, communities will also be sensitised on the importance of keeping the environment free of open defecation and having a good solid waste management system. Community teams that have been set up can carry on the advocacy work started in the community, creating a healthier environment for children to grow up in!

Thida Oo teaches her 7-year-old daughter, Pyae Sone Lwin, eight easy hand washing steps.
Latrine Construction
Proper sanitation facilities are critical to community's health improvement. They are also helpful in protecting water source from pollution. In Myanmar, Thida Oo, mother of five shares what she has learnt from World Vision, "Before, we didn't have a latrine at home and my children always suffer from diarrhoea especially during rainy season. After attending World Vision's health education sessions, I realised that using a fly-proof latrine is very important for our health. With World Vision's support, a fly-proof latrine was built at our house. I taught my children to wash their hands before and after eating, after playing and after using the toilet."

Hygiene Promotion
Good hygiene also plays a key role in protecting children and families from preventable diseases like cholera, diarrhoea and Ebola. Through installation of hand-washing stations, formation of hygiene clubs in schools to promote good hygiene among students, and different activities such as soap-making workshop in school and community, World Vision helps improve the hygiene awareness of communities and in particular, build up the habit of handwashing with soap at critical times, such as before eating, after defecation, before feeding a child, etc., so that children’s health can be protected.

The nurse at the Gambarou Health Centre in Chad shows how the water purifier (PUR) is used to treat water.
Protection of Spring Water
Many natural springs have good water quality, but they are often polluted due to shared usage by men and livestock. To make sure community can enjoy safe drinking water, World Vision works with community members to protect clean water source, and limit cleaning and washing activities to designated areas.

Water Purification
In communities where water gets polluted by bacteria, water-borne bugs, pesticides, or animal faeces, depending on the pollution levels, certain purification measures can be taken to make the water safe for drinking. In some cases, World Vision will provide suitable equipment or items like water purifier for local villagers.



In the past years, different parts of the world suffer varying degrees of damages as a result of tropical storm, flood, drought, and tsunami.

Click here for further details of our emergency relief work.

Education and advocacy


We share the world's needs and stories through different ways, with the hope of touching more people's lives so that in the end even more lives across the globe can be touched and transformed. They include:

Ways you can help :

  • Pay more attention to your water consumption and be more conscious about saving water
  • Learn about ways to conserve water (Visit the website of Water Supplies Department for more tips)
  • Raise your voice – share what you've learned with family and friends
  • Sponsor a child
  • Prayer support