World Water Day 2019: Shocking Facts About Earth's Most Precious Resource

March 22 is World Water Day, and the campaign is drawing attention to the difficulties some of the planet's most vulnerable people face in accessing the precious resource.

The United Nations launched World Water Day in 1993, designating safe access to water for all by 2030 as one of its Sustainable Development Goals.

This year, the theme is “leaving no one behind.” The body hopes to raise awareness of and address the fact that marginalized individuals can have the most trouble finding safe water. That includes children, women, refugees, indigenous peoples and disabled people, according to the U.N. Those who have precarious living conditions can also suffer.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates unsafe water supplies around the world.

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Unsafe water supply around the world. Statista

The occasion brings to light some startling facts and statistics. The U.N. says as many as 2.1 billion people have no safe water at home. And almost two-thirds of the world's people have problems finding water at least one month of the year. Of those who use unsafe water, some 80 percent live in rural areas.

One in four schoolchildren doesn't have drinking water at school and is forced to use unprotected sources or not drink water at all.

If trends continue, an estimated 700 million people across the world could be forced to leave their homes by 2030 because of lack of access to water, the U.N. said.

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In Ahmedabad, India, a woman walks on the parched bed of Chandola Lake with a metal pot on her head to fetch water. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP

Russell Arnott, a postgraduate researcher in phytoplankton dynamics at the University of Bath's Water and Innovation Research Centre, told Newsweek that World Water Day is an opportunity to remember that water isn't needed just for drinking. He pointed out that one in three people on the planet has no access to proper sanitation.

“It's little wonder that water features in the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “SDG 6 is all about water—crystal-clear water for all by 2030.”

Looking to the future and the threat posed by global warming, Arnott warned, “As weather patterns around the world continue to be disrupted by climate change, trying to predict dry spells, rainfall, flooding and drought is becoming ever harder."

Arnott suggested World Water Day is a sobering opportunity for those who have water as a readily available resource to take stock.

“U.N. World Water Day is an excellent opportunity to think about that elixir of life, water,” he said. “This is something we often take for granted, being able to switch on a tap and get a glass of clean, fresh water to drink.”

Arnott's colleague Tom Arnot, co-director of the university's Water Innovation and Research Center, echoed his concerns. "Globally and locally, we must do more to place a true value on water. This is in terms of the cost of water supply and wastewater treatment, but more importantly in terms of our perception of its value as a precious and diminishing natural resource,” he said.

He continued, "We must change our personal behavior around water use and accept the need to reuse and recycle water. Misuse or wastage of water must be regarded with the same concern as throwing plastics into our oceans, excessive energy consumption and global warming, and the quality of the air that we breathe. We would be very foolish indeed to forget that water is life."

This article has been updated with a comment from Tom Arnot.