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Laura Lopez-Aybar



SPSSI UN Committee Issues Statement
on the Psychological Effects of Water Stress  

Laura Lopez-Aybar, SPSSI UN Committee Graduate Intern, Clinical Psychology Doctoral Candidate, Derner School of Psychology, Adelphi University 

Priyadharshany Sandanapitchai, SPSSI UN Committee Graduate Intern, Research Associate, François-Xavier Bagnoud Center, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

The lack of access to clean and sufficient water can significantly impact people’s mental health and well-being. To highlight the psychological evidence on the effects of water stress, SPSSI’s United Nations NGO team submitted a statement for the 54th session of the Commission on Population and Development, entitled “Alleviating the Psychological Effects of Water Stress on Children, Families, and Communities.” Principal authors were SPSSI UN Representatives Deborah Fish Ragin, Rachel Ravich, and Corann Okorodudu along with SPSSI UN/NGO interns Priyadharshany Sandanapitchai and Laura López-Aybar. The statement was co-sponsored by several other NGOs in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation as essential to the realization of all human rights. They called upon all Member States to support and provide safe, clean, accessible, and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all of the world’s people (Resolution A/RES/64/292). In the SPSSI statement we shared psychological and medical evidence that water stress—caused by pollution, forced migration, and agricultural production—contribute directly and indirectly to poor physical and mental health beginning in childhood (Landrigan et al., 2019; Wasserman et al., 2007).

To illustrate, children’s immature metabolic pathways limit their ability to excrete toxic pollutants (National Research Council, 1993). Findings suggest that pollutants such as arsenic, lead, and other toxic chemicals depress children’s growth and cognitive functioning, leading to long-term negative impacts on their cognitive abilities and increased risk of developing mental illnesses such as bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders as adults (Aschengrau et al., 2012; Cuthbertson et al., 2016). These findings highlight the need to develop better health indicators and identify appropriate culturally relevant interventions to address these challenges.

Furthermore, inadequate access to clean water due to pollution, droughts, or floods may force families to migrate, leading to higher susceptibility to illnesses and diseases. Psychological evidence shows that almost all children who are forced to migrate will develop intrusive psychological symptoms, including trauma, anxiety, and depression (Fazer et al., 2005). Further, adverse weather due to climate change and associated food insecurity from the breakdown of agricultural systems may also result in forced migration. Weather related reduction of crop yields directly contribute to increased food insecurity raising the risk of concerns of under-nourished populations, especially undernourished children.

The statement offered 12 specific recommendations related to three major recommendations to address water stress:

  • Establish sustainable water management practices to enhance health outcomes 
  • Ensure protections for environmental migrants and for migrant children’s mental health 
  • Foster intergovernmental and civil society cooperation on sustainable water practices 

The statement has been co-sponsored by several other NGOs/ NGO committees accredited at the UN including the Institute for Multicultural Counseling and Education Services, the International Association of Applied Psychology, the International Council of Psychologists, the International Union of Psychological Science, the NGO Committee on Mental Health, the NGO Health Committee, and Trust for Youth Child Leadership.

SPSSI maintains an NGO team that has been accredited at the United Nations since the 1990s. SPSSI members interested in getting involved with United Nations activities can contact the SPSSI UN/NGO team’s Main Representative, David Livert at

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