Access to water and sanitation

By Martin Mowforth for the TVOD website.

Key words: FAO; Unicef; access to water; sanitation; agricultural demand for water; coronavirus.

In March (2021) the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations published a number of studies to mark World Water Day held on 22nd March each year since 1993. World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the global water crisis. A core focus of the event is to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.

According to one study, access to water in Latin American countries has become more problematic and more urgent as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The problems are felt more urgently in rural areas due to the lack of rains in some areas and the lack of public policies which guarantee safe access to safe water.

According to Tanja Lieuw of the FAO’s department of Climate Change and Environment in Latin America, “The pandemic has increased the urgent need to guarantee the right to water, the major public resource required to prevent illnesses and to contribute to economic recovery and sustainable development.” (El Economista, 22.03.21)

Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the total consumption of water and according to Julio Berdegué, a regional representative of Latin America for the FAO, a 50 per cent increase in agricultural production will be needed to meet the future demand of a growing population. That would require the extraction of 15 per cent more water than current levels of extraction. It will not be easy to balance that growing demand with the need to provide access to water for the 35 per cent of the Latin American and Caribbean population who do not currently have safe access and the even greater numbers who do not have sanitation services.

Berdegué suggested that one of the keys to modernising and improving access to water would be coordination between government ministries, local government departments and different sectors of the economy. In Central American countries, rural areas are often overlooked by different levels of government and their needs are unknown and/or ignored by specific sectors of the economy which tend to view social and infrastructural problems as not their business.

In a November 2020 report, UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund) warned of an impending sanitation crisis in Central America, made all the more severe by the effects of Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Unicef was particularly concerned about the existence of a great deal of stagnant standing water following the hurricanes which would enable the breeding and spread of more disease, including covid.


UNICEF website:

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) website:

El Economista, 20.12 20, ‘Unicef advierte de una crisis sanitaria por falta de agua en Centroamérica’.

El Economista, 22.03.21, ‘El acceso universal al agua en Latinoamérica es más urgente tras la pandemia, según la FAO’.