Mar 28, 2012

Rural Populations Lag in Access to Safe Drinking Water & Sanitation

UNICEF reports that although goals are being met, many are without basic necessities

UNICEF reports that although goals are being met, many are without basic necessities

In commemoration of World Water Day, UNICEF called on governments to pay particular attention to those who are being left behind in their countries' progress, especially with regard to access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Two weeks ago, a UNICEF and World Health Organization report showed that poor people in rural areas are overwhelmingly those without these most basic necessities for life.

"Governments must make sure that their resources achieve real results for the poorest people,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF's chief of water, sanitation and hygiene. “Otherwise they risk leaving large portions of their populations, particularly children, increasingly vulnerable to disease."

According to the report, “Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012,” the world met the Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water at the end of 2010, when 89% of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources.

However, it reported that rural dwellers are several times more likely than their urban counterparts to be without access to safe drinking water. According to the report, globally there is an almost universal disparity of access to safe drinking water in rural areas compared to urban areas.

Of the 783 million people still without improved sources of drinking water in 2010, 653 million are from rural areas. The picture is even worse for sanitation, in which globally, 79% of the urban population use an improved sanitation facility compared to 47% of the rural population. Fully, 72% of those without access to improved sanitation, or 1.8 billion people, live in rural areas.

According to UNICEF, the rural-urban divide for safe drinking water is particularly acute in poorer countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the gap between urban and rural is 34 percentage points. On average in least-developed countries, 97 out of every 100 rural residents do not have piped water on premises.

Overwhelmingly, it is women and girls who are bearing the brunt of the water burden, according to UNICEF. Surveys conducted in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that in 71% of all households without water on the premises, women or girls are mainly responsible for water collection. Each household typically requires at least one trip a day, and often more, for water collection. It is estimated that women spend a combined total of at least 16 million hours each day collecting drinking water; men spend 6 million hours; and children 4 million hours.

“Safe drinking water must reach everyone,” Wijesekera said. “We cannot celebrate progress until those who are hardest to reach can also turn on a tap or go to a well or pump and get enough safe drinking water for their daily needs.”