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SOCIAL THRESHOLD #1 ACCESS TO WATER: While you are washing your hands to protect yourself, think abo

Never has the topic of handwashing to prevent the spread of disease been so prevalent in people’s minds. Hand hygiene is undoubtedly a critical element in disease prevention. While we all have the luxury of being able to turn on the tap and grab the soap whenever we need it to deliver some peace of mind, handwashing with soap and clean water is out of reach for 3 billion people on the planet.

Access to safe water must be considered a basic human right for humanity, whether to drink or for sanitation. That is why it is the first Social Threshold metric and informed the SDG 6 of safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.

WHO and UNICEF’s report on Inequalities in access to water, sanitation and hygiene [1] showed that some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, and 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services.

In many parts of the world, children, parents, teachers, healthcare workers and other members of the community do not have access to basic handwashing facilities at home, in healthcare facilities, schools or elsewhere. According to the latest estimates from UNICEF [2]

  • * 40 per cent of the world’s population (3 billion people) do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. Nearly three quarters of the people in least developed countries lack basic handwashing facilities at home

  • * 47 per cent of schools lacked a handwashing facility with water and soap affecting 900 million school-age children. Over one third of schools worldwide and half of schools in the least developed countries have no place for children to wash their hands at all

  • * 16 per cent of healthcare facilities, or around 1 in 6, had no functional toilets or handwashing facilities at points of care where patients are treated

This year’s World Water Development Report from the UN 3 also observes that

‘Climate change is likely to slow or undermine progress on access to safely managed water and sanitation and lead to ineffective use of resources if systems design and management are not climate-resilient. By extension, progress on the elimination and control of water and sanitation related disease will also be slowed or undermined by climate change.’

This is because water quality will be adversely affected as a result of higher water temperatures and water pollution and pathogenic contamination caused by flooding or by higher pollutant concentrations during drought.

For the past eight years, Article 13 have reviewed the world’s largest 240 companies to assess their performance and impact against our Planetary Boundaries and Social Thresholds. This research enables us to examine how many of those companies have measures and targets in place to help address Social Threshold #1 - access to water.

Whilst we saw progress drop last year, this year sees an increase in the number of companies measuring their impact against the Social Threshold at 43%. However, just 10% of the world’s largest companies report having set targets to help improve access to water. That leaves a lot of room for opportunity.

The efforts of some household washing product brand owners to address access to sanitation and handwashing facilities have been well documented over the past few years, but there’s still a long way to go to reduce inequalities and can’t just be left to them.

There are two ways that companies can help to address access to safe water and sanitation.

1) Through measures and targets to mitigate your own impacts in regions of operation and throughout your entire supply chain. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems and minimising contamination of waste-water

2) Through measures and targets to promote positive impact creation in regions of need, investing in infrastructure, providing sanitation facilities and encouraging hygiene.

As water is fundamentally a shared resource, solutions need to involve all water users (now and in the future) – from agriculture to nature, and from local populations to other business users. Solutions include:

  • * Working with a range of partners to protect water resources at a watershed level and improve access to clean water and sanitatio

  • * Working across supply chains to set targets and engage all water users in programmes. The majority of water use for many companies will be in their supply chain – particularly for agriculture

Water ‘quality’ also needs to be considered. It is not just about how much water companies use, it’s also about how they return the water back to the watershed as they ‘took it’ (e.g. quality, temperature, pH etc.)

Does your company support access to safe water?

If you are interested in assessing the impact your company could, or does, make on social thresholds please contact us.

To hear what Gen Z have to say on the subject click here.




3 The United Nations World Water Development Report 2020

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