March 22, 2011, New York

Water is a vital natural resource and a human right

Extreme degradation of ecosystems, pollution, and over-consumption of water in rich countries and by the rich in poor countries, as well as the impact of extreme poverty, have all contributed to an environmental catastrophe in the world’s water supply. With millions of people – especially the poorest in our societies – excluded from access to safe drinking water, the water crisis is one of social inequality and a threat to human rights. Climate change only further exacerbates water challenges and inequalities between the rich and poor.

On July 28, 2010, in a historic moment for humanity, the UN affirmed the right to water and sanitation as a fundamental human right— an important step in transforming society’s relationship with water and holding governments accountable. But today, millions of people still lack access to safe drinking water- resulting in the deaths of approximately 3.4 million people in developing countries each year. Women make up more than half of the millions who lack access to clean water, are often most responsible for water management, and are regularly hardest hit by stress on water supply.

The theme of this year’s World Water Day is “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge”. Already today, more than half of the world’s population is living in urban areas and, according to the UN, by 2050, 6.8 billion people will be living in cities- mostly in developing countries.

Cities face huge demands on water supply and sanitation. Particularly in urban slums, where women make up more than half the population, water supply is often intermittent or wholly unavailable. Many people, living on less than $1 a day, are forced to buy bottled water at a very high relative cost-placing huge burdens on already limited incomes. This is a result of the wide-scale privatization of water that is increasingly infringing on people’s rights and livelihoods around the world, most severely on poor women and girls.

The right and access to clean water is intrinsically linked to gender equality. Often natural resource managers, women and girls are responsible for collecting water for cooking, cleaning, drinking, health and hygiene, and growing food. However, decisions made about water and sanitation services continue to neglect gendered needs and concerns – largely because women are regularly left out of those policy-making spheres.

Women often have to travel long distances to collect water for their communities- carrying 20 litres of water per day over 6 km for 4-5 or more hours. Additionally, water-borne diseases kill millions of people each year, mostly children, and women bear the main burden of caring for those who are ill. Climate change and biodiversity loss have caused huge changes in our water resources with increased droughts and floods, while at the same time reducing water access and quality. Separately or together, these add stress to women’s role as resource managers, limiting the amount of time available for education and income generation, putting them at risk for physical and sexual violence and adding strains on their physical health.

Importantly, women have shown strong leadership both in terms of advocacy towards the protection and conservation of natural resources as well as innovation in the water sector. Women have been central to the struggle against the sale of public water to transnational corporations (TNCs), through lobbying local authorities and national ministries, forming local women’s associations, and organizing marches, campaigns and direct actions.

Water for Life
Water is one of Earth’s most precious resources –  integral to sustaining our natural ecosystems and human life. On World Water Day, WEDO reminds you to protect this vital natural resource and work towards a world which promotes and protects the human right to water.

Take Action
Tweet: #Water and #Women- Protect our natural resources and human rights @wedo_worldwide #worldwaterday

Walk for Water: Find out about events taking place around the globe:

Donate your voice: Visit, to donate your status updates on Twitter or Facebook for a week (21-26 March). It’s so easy to do, and will help spread the urgent water and sanitation message far and wide across the web! Once you’ve connected your Facebook or Twitter account, it will send just one message a day for one week – so don’t worry, it won’t take over!

Organizations working on water:
Blue Planet Project:
charity: water:
Clearwater Initiative:
Gender and Water Alliance: 
Global Water:
Global Women’s Water Initiative:
The Millennium Water Alliance:
Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI):
UN Water:
UNESCO-Ihe Institute For Water Education:
Water For People:
World Water Council:
Water Supply And Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC):
Women For Water Partnership:

join the movement

Women and girls around the world are demanding and creating systemic change and a sustainable future for all. We need collective power to attain a just future – we need you.