All the freshwater resources we depend on come from the natural environment. But many factors can combine to threaten water security, leaving people without access to enough safe water.

We focus on ensuring everyone, everywhere is water secure. In other words, we make sure people have reliable access to enough water to meet their basic needs, including for drinking, cooking, washing, adequate sanitation, good hygiene, supporting small-scale livelihoods and staying healthy. Three things are critical for people's water security: 

  • Well-managed water resources, which depend on healthy ecosystems
  • Well-managed water supply services
  • Managing water risks, such as waterborne diseases

All the freshwater resources we depend on come from the natural environment. Rain flows in rivers and is stored in lakes, in the soil or in vast underground layers of rock called aquifers. 

Water from rivers, lakes and aquifers cannot be easily accessed without pumps, pipes, taps and tanks – or the skilled people to manage them as part of a service. Similarly, water supply services cannot function without water resources that are part of healthy ecosystems. If threats to water resources and supply services are not adequately addressed, people will face water insecurity.

The quantity and quality of available water can vary over time, and a number of factors can combine to threaten people's water security:

  • Natural climate variability
  • Climate change
  • Increasing demand for water
  • Living on hazard-prone land
  • Inadequate financing of water services
  • Uncontrolled discharge of pollutants into water
  • Excluding marginalised people because of gender, caste, race, social status or political affiliation  

Many of these threats can be managed to ensure minimal impact on people's access to water, but often the political will and institutional capacity to do this does not exist. As a result, hundreds of millions of people still do not have access to this basic human right.

Why doesn't everyone have access to clean water yet?

Despite decades of projects, fundraising and technological inventions, millions of people still live without clean water. We explore the barriers to achieving universal access and how a systems strengthening approach can help overcome them.

Mary gives clean drinking water to her son, Chileshe, in Kazungula District, Zambia. June 2022.
Image: WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

Our approach

Our aim is to reduce the risks people face that are related to water. We use a combination of approaches to improve people’s water security:

  • Helping people to demand their right to clean water from governments
  • Supporting service providers to meet these demands through training, and lobbying for supportive policy frameworks, including by pushing for the greater professionalisation of the provision and maintenance of water supply services 
  • Supporting local governments, service providers and communities to find viable ways of continuously managing and maintaining water supplies and services, and adopt strategies that respond to risks posed by climate change
  • Working with national governments to lobby for more funding to provide new water services and maintain existing ones
  • Promoting and providing training on water safety planning, to protect water supplies from contamination
  • Promoting water technologies that can be used and maintained without an unrealistic financial or management burden for users or service providers 
  • Promoting infrastructure and services that meet people’s different water needs, such as those that provide water for drinking and small-scale livelihoods
  • Encouraging households, communities and the public and private sectors to invest in water supply services
  • Integrating the provision of water services with the management of water resources and ecosystems
  • Supporting governments and service providers to monitor the status of water supply services and plan service improvements
  • Promoting water resource monitoring to inform early warning systems for responding to and managing droughts, as well as equitable water use
  • Strengthening the ability of communities, local governments and service providers to manage threats to their water supplies
  • Promoting greater coordination between different water users, such as agriculture, livelihoods, environment, energy and domestic supply, to promote a collaborative approach to managing water risks
  • Conducting research into water-related issues to inform policy and practice

All of these approaches form our efforts to strengthen the systems that must be in place to provide safe, reliable water supplies now and in the future. It is not enough to simply deliver water services and train people how to operate them. Systems must be in place to help people keep their services running and adapt to changes in the water resources available to them. This requires expertise in service delivery and water resource management.

We are increasingly combining the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services with improved water resource management. This integrated approach provides a structure for identifying and monitoring water-related threats, carrying out risk-based planning, and acting to mitigate these threats. The outcome is reduced risk and increased water security for the communities we work alongside.

Securing water resources in West Africa

One example of our approach to water security is an innovative method known as ‘securing water resources’ which we have been using in West Africa. This approach:

  • Integrates the delivery of WASH services with the principles of water resource management
  • Acts as an early warning system, alerting communities, local governments, catchment management authorities and basin authorities to emerging threats
  • Provides a structure for risk-based planning
  • Informs the design of services to better meet multiple water needs
  • Supports better coordination and fairer allocation of water between users and sectors
  • Helps communities call on governments for assistance when their access to water is threatened
  • Strengthens government support to communities

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Top image: Topakula washes his hands and face at a standpost installed outside his house in Andhra Pradesh, India. February 2021.

Second image: Mary gives clean drinking water to her son Chileshe in Kazungula District, Zambia. June 2022.

Last updated: May 2024