Coordinating the UN's work on water and sanitation

Facts and Figures

Water itself is very simple. Two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen bonded together – a liquid that no living thing on this planet can do without.

But water as an issue is complex because water is connected to almost everything.

Here are just a few facts that show how crucial water is:

Water and Children

Every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases – such as cholera – caused by poor water, and a lack of sanitation and hygiene. (UNICEF, 2016)

Water and Boarders

There are 263 river basins and 300 underground water aquifers that straddle borders between countries. (UNECE/UNESCO 2015)

Water and Climate Change

About 4 billion people, nearly two-thirds of the world population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year (United Nations, 2018)

Water and Disasters

About 90% of all natural disasters are water-related. (UNISDR, 2015).

Water and Ecosystems

The world has lost 70% of its natural wetlands over the last 100 years. (United Nations, 2018)

Water, Food and Energy

The biggest water consumers are agriculture, which accounts for 70% of global water withdrawals, and industry which uses 19%. (FAO, AQUASTAT)

Water and Gender

Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households where there is no water on the premises. (WHO and UNICEF, 2017)

Water and Health

A lack of safe water increases the risk of diarrhoea, which kills approximately 485 000 people every year. (WHO, 2019)

Water and Human Rights

The human right to safe drinking water was first recognized by the UN in 2010, reflecting the fact that access to water is critical to public health.

Water and Peace

Since 1948, there have been 37 incidents of acute conflict over water, compared to the 295 international water agreements that have been negotiated and signed. (UNECE/UNESCO 2015)

Water Quality and Wastewater

Globally, it is likely that over 80% of wastewater is released to the environment without adequate treatment. (UNESCO, 2017)

Water and Refugees

700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. (Global Water Institute, 2013)

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Today, 2.2 billion people live without safe drinking water and 4.2 billion people have no safe toilet. (UNICEF/WHO 2018)

Water Scarcity

Over 2 billion people live in countries where there is not enough water for everyone’s needs. (United Nations, 2018)

Water and Urbanization

In urban areas, the main challenge is often a lack of access to basic services in informal settlements, or high prices and a lack of quality control of water from private vendors. (WHO, 2017)

Financing Water and Sanitation

For every $1 invested in basic drinking water and sanitation, between $2.5 and $7 is returned in saved medical costs and increased productivity. (Hutton et al. 2015)


  • WHO/UNICEF JMP report ‘Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2017: Special focus on inequalities’ (WHO/UNICEF 2019)
  • WHO WASH facts (WHO, 2019)
  • SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation (United Nations, 2018)
  • WHO/UNICEF JMP report, Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (UNICEF/WHO 2018)
  • UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water  (WHO, 2017)
  • WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) – 2017 Update and SDG Baselines (WHO/UNICEF, 2017)
  • The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 (FAO/IFAD/UNICEF/WFP/WHO, 2017)
  • United Nations World Water Development Report (UNESCO, 2017)
  • UNICEF WASH facts (UNICEF, 2016)
  • The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters (UNISDR, 2015)
  • Good Practices in Transboundary Water Cooperation (UNECE/UNESCO 2015)
  • Future Water (In)Security: Facts, Figures and Predictions (Global Water Institute, 2013)