WaterAid Australia sheds light on the real cost of water this World Water Day

WaterAid Australia

Ahead of World Water Day on Friday March 22, WaterAid Australia is asking, can you imagine life without clean water to drink?

For more than 700 million people globally, this is a daily reality. Every person needs a sustainable supply of clean water: for drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning. It’s a human right.

However, in many countries, taps, wells and pipes delivering clean water simply don’t exist. The cost of this is enormous. We’re not talking about monetary costs. Beyond money, lies the profound human cost of water.

The weight of collecting water falls disproportionately on women and girls. Globally, seven in ten women and adolescent girls are responsible for collecting water when it’s not at home. If everyone, everywhere had clean water close to home, between 2021 and 2040, it would free up more than 77 million working days for women each year.

These figures underscore the magnitude of the issue. It’s not only about the physical act of collecting water; it’s about the countless opportunities lost in the process.

In Papua New Guinea, 5.1 million people – half the population – don’t have clean water close to home. Children in these contexts are forced to consume unsafe water, leading to illnesses from waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea. In Papua New Guinea, over 350 children under five die every year from diarrhoea caused by dirty water, poor toilets and no hygiene facilities.

On top of this, climate change is making it even harder for the world’s most vulnerable people to get clean water. More frequent and extreme flooding is polluting fragile water sources; longer droughts are drying up springs.

Floods are destroying people’s crops, toilets and homes. They can contaminate drinking water sources, damaging people’s livelihoods, their dignity, their safety and health.

WaterAid believes addressing the real cost of water requires governments, businesses and communities to collaborate to develop longer-term solutions to increase and protect access to water.

WaterAid Australia Chief Executive, Tom Muller said:

“The key to any solution is fundamentally acknowledging the real cost of not having access to clean water. With 700 million people globally lacking clean water we need to commit to ambitious collaborative efforts that recognise the true cost of water poverty and drive a new agenda in a time of climate crisis.”

Key Facts:

· 703 million people in the world – almost one in ten – don’t have clean water close to home.1

· 2.2 billion people in the world – more than one in four – don’t have safe water.1

· Almost 2 billion people in the world – one in four – lack soap and/or water to wash their hands at home, if they have a place at all.1

· 1.5 billion people in the world – almost one in five – don’t have a decent toilet of their own.1

· 570 million people in the world – 1 in 14 – have a decent toilet but have to share it with people outside their family. This compromises the privacy, dignity and safety of women and girls.2

· Almost 400,000 children under five die every year due to diseases caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. That’s more than 1000 children a day, or almost one child every one and a half minutes.2

· Investing in safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services provides up to 21 times more value than it costs.3

[1]WHO/UNICEF (2023). Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2022: special focus on gender. Available at: washdata.org/reports/jmp-2023-wash-households-launch (accessed 11 Jul 2023).

[2]WHO (2023). Burden of disease attributable to unsafe drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene: 2019 update. Available at: who.int/publications/i/item/9789240075610 (accessed 24 Jul 2023).

[3]WaterAid (2021). Mission-critical: Invest in water, sanitation and hygiene for a healthy and green economic recovery. Available at: washmatters.wateraid.org/publications/mission-critical-invest-water-sanitation-hygiene-healthy-green-recovery (accessed 1 Nov 2023).

About us:


WaterAid is an international not-for-profit determined to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. We work alongside communities in 22 countries to secure these three essentials that transform people’s lives. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets.

/Public Release.