Almost 1000 children under five die each day from diarrhoea caused by contaminated water. More than 2.4 billion people – a third of all humanity – have no access to sanitation. And as populations grow, water is set to become a new source of danger and conflict, especially in rapidly expanding urban areas of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, as climate change accelerates, we are likely to see more extreme and frequent droughts, floods and typhoons. People in emerging economies are likely to be the hardest hit by water-borne disasters.
To help national governments and the global community prepare and respond to these challenges, UNU carries out research and training on numerous water-related issues. Using the latest evidence-based research, UNU institutes feed into policy planning worldwide. They provide economic, political and social recommendations to help ensure human development, survival and welfare.
As of 2015, UNU institutes, including UNU-IAS, UNU-INWEH in Canada and UNU-INRA in Ghana, lead a total of 60 water projects. Of these, 24 broadly focus on Asia, 16 on Africa, and eight on the Americas.
The UNU-IAS Water and Urban Initiative (WUI) is one of these project. Inappropriate urban development, where industrialization coupled with climate change makes securing of sound water environments difficult, poses a long term environmental and health risk to rapidly growing populations. WUI seeks to provide an information platform and integrated policy tools that contribute to capacity building in Asian developing countries. Focusing on population growth, urbanization and low-carbon measures, it aims to improve urban water environments.
The use of water for development is a theme in two other projects, at UNU-MERIT: one focusing on India, the other on Kenya. The ‘FINISH’ and ‘FINISH-INK’ projects aim to improve not only sanitation but also regional economies: helping local engineers and entrepreneurs design, build and service modern toilets. Working with partners such as NGOs, government agencies and international organisations, including UNICEF, FINISH India builds one toilet in every 3-4 minutes. The ultimate goal is to build half a million by 2016.
Yet water is just one piece of the puzzle for both development and the environment. Hence the ‘Nexus Approach’ designed by UNU-FLORES in Germany, which aims to encourage a more sustainable management of water, soil and waste, while working with partners like UNEP and UNESCO. The approach is based on the understanding that environmental resources are inextricably linked and therefore need to be governed in an integrated way.
UNU water projects will be presented at the upcoming World Water Week 2015 meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.