Some 600 million children – or 1 in 4 children worldwide – will be living in areas where water demand far outstrips supply by 2040, according to a UNICEF report released on World Water Day.
The report, Thirsting for a Future: Water and children in a changing climate, looks at the  threats to children’s lives and wellbeing caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways climate change will intensify these risks in coming years.
“Water is elemental; without it, nothing can grow. But around the world, millions of children lack access to safe water — endangering their lives, undermining their health, and jeopardizing their futures. This crisis will only grow unless we take collective action now,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
According to the report, 37 countries, including Nigeria, are currently facing extremely high levels of water stress, which occurs when more than 80 per cent of the water available for agriculture, industry and domestic use is withdrawn annually. Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice affect the quality and availability of water.
For Nigeria, the greatest challenge is the availability of physical infrastructure to harness rainfall and ground water effectively. There are huge variations in rainfall between north and south Nigeria,  making it all the more important to better plan and manage water resources to minimise the impact of floods and drought.
“In Nigeria, as we work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of reaching everyone with access to safe, functional, affordable and accessible water, we must manage water resources more efficiently to meet the needs of Nigeria’s growing population and economic development,” noted Kannan Nadar, UNICEF’s chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
Population growth, increased water consumption, and higher demand for water largely due to industrialization and urbanization, are draining water resources worldwide. Conflicts in many parts of the world also threaten children’s access to safe water.
All of these factors force children to use unsafe water, which exposes them to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea. Many children in drought-affected areas spend hours every day collecting water, missing out on a chance to go to school. Girls are especially vulnerable to attack during these times.
The poorest and most vulnerable children will be most impacted by an increase in water stress, as millions of them already live in areas with low access to safe water and sanitation. The report also notes that:
* 260 million children around the world live in areas where the risk of floods is extremely high and open defecation is widespread, threatening to contaminate water sources with human waste;
* Over 800 children under the age of five die every day around the world from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene;
* Globally, women and girls spend 200 million hours collecting water every day.
* The impact of climate change on water sources is not inevitable, UNICEF says. The report concludes with a series of recommendations that can help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children. Such measures include:
* Governments need to plan for changes in water availability and demand in the coming years; Above all, it means prioritizing the most vulnerable children’s access to safe water above other water needs to maximize social and health outcomes.
* Climate risks should be integrated into all water and sanitation-related policies and services, and investments should to target high-risk populations.
* Businesses need to work with communities to prevent contamination and depletion of safe water sources.
* Communities themselves should explore ways to diversify water sources and to increase their capacity to store water safely.
“In a changing climate, we must change the way we work to reach those who are most vulnerable. One of the most effective ways we can do that is safeguarding their access to safe water,” Lake said.