UNITED NATIONS, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Some 600 million children, or one in four children worldwide, will be living in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040, according to a report released here by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday to mark World Water Day.
The report, entitled "Thirsting for a Future: Water and children in a changing climate," studied the threats to children's lives and wellbeing caused by depleted sources of safe water, and the ways climate change will intensify these risks in coming years.
"Water is elemental; without it, nothing can grow. But around the world, millions of children lack access to safe water -- endangering their lives, undermining their health, and jeopardizing their futures," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said. "This crisis will only grow unless we take collective action now."
According to the report, 36 countries are currently facing extremely high levels of water stress, which occurs when demand for water far exceeds the renewable supply available.
Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice affect the quality and availability of water as well as sanitation systems.
World Water Day, observed on March 22 every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. At present, some 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
The Sustainable Development Goals, launched by world leaders at the United Nations in 2015, include a target to ensure everyone has access to safe water by 2030, making water a key issue in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty.
In 1993, the UN General Assembly officially designated March 22 as World Water Day.
Population growth, increased water consumption, and higher demand for water largely due to industrialization and urbanization are draining water resources worldwide. Conflicts in many parts of the world also threaten children's access to safe water.
All of these factors force children to use unsafe water, which exposes them to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea. Many children in drought-affected areas spend hours every day collecting water, missing out on a chance to go to school. Girls are especially vulnerable to attack during these times.
The poorest and most vulnerable children will be most impacted by an increase in water stress, the report says, as millions of them already live in areas with low access to safe water and sanitation.
Meanwhile, the report also noted that more than 800 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
The impact of climate change on water sources is not inevitable, UNICEF said, suggesting a series of recommendations that can help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children.
Such measures include prioritizing the most vulnerable children's access to safe water above other water needs to maximize social and health outcomes, integrating climate risks into all water and sanitation-related policies and services, and investments in high-risk populations.
"In a changing climate, we must change the way we work to reach those who are most vulnerable," Lake said. "One of the most effective ways we can do that is safeguarding their access to safe water."