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"Moral failure": More than a year into the pandemic, 1/3 of the globe lacks access to safe drinking water or decent toilets

It's been more than a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Many countries have started to recover as vaccines continue to become more readily available, but for much of the globe, one vital component to life remains inaccessible: Access to safe drinking water. 

At a United Nations meeting on Thursday to address water-related goals and targets as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations General Assembly president Volkan Bozkir said that, at this point, the world has committed a "moral failure" in getting everyone access to safe drinking water. 

Bozkir made his point with startling statistics about the state of global water access: Roughly a third of the entire world's population, 2.2 billion people, do not have access to clean drinking water, he said. 

Along with inadequate access to hydration, he said billions of people also lack access to proper sanitation resources. More than 2 billion people don't have a "decent toilet of their own," and 3 billion don't have "basic hand washing facilities." 

The data Bozkir cited was found in a 2019 report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. 

"If I may be candid: it is a moral failure that we live in a world with such high levels of technical innovation and success, but we continue to allow billions of people to exist without clean drinking water or the basic tools to wash their hands," Bozkir said. 

"We live in an era of technological miracles. We are on track to create driverless cars, robots & artificial intelligence," he later tweeted. "So, how is it possible that we are off track to ensure that everyone in the world has sustainably managed water and sanitation?"

According to the U.N.'s sustainable development goals, most of the people affected by these lack of resources are in rural areas. If leaders fail to make water and sanitation measures more accessible to the billions of people impacted, the UN has said, "COVID-19 will not be stopped."

"The fact that billions of people have had to face this pandemic without basic hand-washing facilities and that health providers in some of the Least Developed Countries do not have running water is impossible to reconcile," Bozkir said, "especially when we live in a world of such abundance and of such profound innovation." 

Inadequate water and sanitation is fatal, even aside from the pandemic. Nearly 1,000 children die every day because of illnesses they develop from a lack of these resources, according to the U.N.

The U.N. agenda has laid out eight goals to rectify the situation. Along with establishing universal and equitable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, the organization intends to improve water quality through environmental measures, increase water-use efficiency, establish an integrated management plan for water resources, protect water ecosystems, expand internal cooperation, and strengthen support in communities.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said Thursday at the meeting that as of now, the world is not on track to meet those goals. 

"To achieve universal access to water and sanitation, the current rate of progress would need to quadruple," she said. "Moreover, the planetary crisis, including the interlinked threats of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, will increase water scarcity.  By 2040, one in four of the world's children under 18 — some 600 million — will be living in areas of extremely high-water stress."

She recommended that as countries commit to plans for pandemic recovery, they intertwine those plans with the Sustainable Development Goals and address inadequate water and sanitation access. She also urged that governments focus on preventing water-related natural disasters and focus on empowering women's leadership in the development of a green economy. 

Bozkir recommended that governments also focus on addressing these issues with the help of the communities they govern, and listen to organizations who are fighting for similar goals.

"Water is life," Bozkir said. "We simply cannot live on this planet — and certainly not in any healthy capacity — if we are deprived of this most basic human need. Our entire agricultural system — all of the food we consume — is dependent upon water supplies. The same extends to all other life on this planet. Every ecosystem, every species, depends upon water."

"Our discussion is not just about liquid in a bottle," he said. "It is about dignity...opportunity...our health and our ability to survive."  

CBS News' Pamela Falk contributed to this report.

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