South Asia is grappling with a severe water scarcity crisis affecting more children than anywhere else globally, according to the United Nations. A staggering 347 million children under 18 face high or extremely high water scarcity in the region, encompassing Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. This constitutes over a quarter of the world’s child population. The UN Children’s Agency, UNICEF, released a report on Monday attributing the crisis to climate change-induced disruptions in weather patterns and rainfall, leading to unpredictable water availability.
The report emphasizes the adverse impacts on children due to poor water quality, insufficient water supply, and mismanagement practices such as overpumping of aquifers. Climate change exacerbates these issues by reducing the replenishment of water sources. UNICEF highlights the far-reaching consequences of water scarcity, affecting homes, health centers, and schools when village wells run dry. With an increasingly erratic climate, the situation is expected to worsen for children in South Asia.
Looking ahead to the UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai next month, UNICEF announced its intention to urge leaders to take decisive actions to ensure a sustainable planet. Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF chief for South Asia, stressed that safe water is a fundamental human right. However, millions of children in the region face challenges in accessing sufficient drinking water, exacerbated by floods, droughts, and extreme weather events linked to climate change.
While acknowledging progress in expanding water services, UNICEF highlighted that 45 million children lacked access to basic drinking water services in South Asia last year, surpassing other regions. Nevertheless, the organization expressed optimism about the rapid expansion of services, aiming to halve the number of children without access to basic drinking water by 2030.