The story

Water is the key to life. It is fundamental to all human activities. Water grows the food we eat, generates the energy that supports our modern economies and maintains the ecological services on which we all depend. Yet billions of people worldwide still lack access to the most basic human right: safe, clean, adequate water.

As you would expect, the vast majority of these people are among the poorest in the world, living in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

Brent Stirton's images tell many stories if you know how to read them -- from the tragedy brought by lack of safe water or too much water, to the joy and life-changing effects that a new water system can offer. Hear the author describe Stirton's images in an audio slideshow Read full article »

Brent Stirton is a senior staff photographer for Getty Images. He has photographed water issues in Zambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mexico and elsewhere for five years. Stirton works with the Global Business Coalition Against AIDS, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Ford Foundation and other groups. His photos have appeared in Newsweek, National Geographic,, The New York Times Magazine, The London Sunday Times Magazine and other publications.

Peter H. Gleick, who wrote the above essay, is cofounder and president of the Pacific Institute in California and an internationally recognized water expert. He was named a MacArthur Fellow for his work, which addresses the critical connections between water and human health, the hydrologic impacts of climate change, sustainable water use, privatization and globalization, and international conflicts over water resources. He serves on the boards of numerous journals and organizations and has authored and six books.