Jul 06, 2015

Report Highlights Successes, Failures in Sanitation, Safe Drinking Water Efforts

The report finds progress made in providing safe drinking water in developing countries, while sanitation efforts continue to need improvement

UNICEF World Health Organization safe drinking water sanitation report

UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) released their annual progress report outlining the progress being made on sanitation and safe drinking water in developing countries. The report found that worldwide, one in three people, or 2.4 billion, still lack proper sanitation facilities, including 946 million people who defecate in the open. The report also found that 663 million people around the world still lack access to safe drinking water, down significantly from one year ago.

According to the joint press release, "Access to improved drinking water sources has been a major achievement for countries and the international community. With some 2.6 billion people having gained access since 1990, 91% of the global population now has improved drinking water - and the number is still growing. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 427 million people have gained access—an average of 47,000 people per day every day for 25 years.

The child survival gains as a result of the progress have been substantial. Today, fewer than 1,000 children under five die each day from diarrhea caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene, compared to over 2,000 15 years ago."

"The United States— both its government and private citizens working through civic and faith groups, nonprofits, and philanthropies - deserves huge credit for its leadership," said John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates. "For the past 10 years, the U.S. government and private citizens have invested in water and sanitation for developing countries because it helps the global economy, improves our nation's security, and saves and improves millions of lives. Last year, the Water for the World Act was signed into law, requiring USAID to focus its water and sanitation efforts on the poorest countries, implement more sustainable and appropriate projects, and conduct increasingly rigorous monitoring and evaluation."

The lack of progress on sanitation threatens to undermine the child survival and health benefits from gains in access to safe drinking water, warn WHO and UNICEF. "Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases," said Dr. Maria Neira, director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

WHO and UNICEF say it is vitally important to learn from the uneven progress of the 1990-2015 period to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals close the inequality gaps and achieve universal access to water and sanitation. To do so, the world needs:

  • Data to be able to pinpoint the populations and areas that are outliers from the national averages;
  • A robust and intentional focus on the hardest to reach, particularly the poor in rural areas;
  • Innovative technologies and approaches to bring sustainable sanitation solutions to poor communities at affordable prices; and
  • Increased attention to improving hygiene in homes, schools and health care facilities.

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