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The Graphic Truth: Has clean water access improved?

In many low- and middle-income countries, availability of safe, drinkable water remains scarce. Though access has improved significantly in many places over the past two decades – by 152% in Afghanistan, for instance – the very low baseline means that still only 28% of that population has access to high quality drinking water. Meanwhile, countries like the Central African Republic, Zambia, Nepal, and Pakistan saw their access reduced over the past two decades. Here’s a snapshot of the relative change in access to safe drinking water around the world from 2000-2020.

Luisa Vieira

What We’re Watching: Water wars vs. cooperation

Water wars?

Hundreds of millions of both Indians and Pakistanis depend on water from the Indus River for drinking, farming, and hydropower. The Indus Waters Treaty, signed by India’s prime minister and Pakistan’s president in 1960, guarantees how water from the river and its tributaries will be shared. This was put at risk in February 2019, when a suicide car bomb killed more than 40 Indian soldiers in the Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir. India’s transport minister responded with plans to “stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan.” The Pakistani government then warned it would treat any stoppage of water as an “act of war.” A treaty loses its values if one side decides not to honor it. Though tensions cooled in this case, the risk of a water war remains, because it’s simply too dangerous for these nuclear-armed and bitter rivals to fight a war with conventional weapons, and water will only become a more precious resource in coming years. Global warming could shrink the Himalayan glaciers that feed the river by more than a third in coming decades and make rainfall patterns more erratic, even as Indian and Pakistan water demand increases with population growth.

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S3 Episode 2: Saving the world’s water supply


Listen: Nearly half of the world's population currently lives in areas that face water scarcity for at least one month out of every year, and more than 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. This basic human need is too often at risk for communities around the globe, creating grave public health and security crises.

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