UN urges political commitment, leadership to fund lagging global sanitation goals

A young woman passes a mural promoting healthy sanitation and hygiene practices, outside the UNICEF-supported Redemption Public Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: UNICEF/Asselin

13 May 2013 – While international targets on clean drinking water were met nearly three years ago, a joint United Nations agency report today warns that without a major funding push, some 2.4 billion people – one-third of the world’s population – will remain without access to improved sanitation in 2015.

The report, Progress on sanitation and drinking-water 2013 update, was compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

The new study warns that, at the current rate of progress, the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of the 1990 population without sanitation will be missed by 8 per cent – or half a billion people.

“There is an urgent need to ensure all the necessary pieces are in place – political commitment, funding and leadership – so the world can accelerate progress and reach the Millennium Development Goal sanitation target,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment.

“The world can turn around and transform the lives of millions that still do not have access to basic sanitation,” she said, adding: “The rewards would be immense for health, ending poverty at its source, and well-being.”

While UNICEF and WHO announced last year that the MDG drinking water target had been met and surpassed by 2010, the challenge to improve sanitation and reach those in need has led to a consolidated call for action to accelerate progress.

The report echoes the urgent call to action by UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson for the world community to combine efforts and end open defecation by 2025. With less than three years to go to reach the MDG deadline, WHO and UNICEF called for a final push to meet the sanitation target.

Among the key findings from the latest 2011 data, the report highlights that nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of the world’s population had access to improved sanitation facilities, an increase of almost 1.9 billion people since 1990.

Yet currently, some 2.5 billion people still lacked access to such facilities. Of these, according to the report, 761 million use public or shared sanitation facilities and 693 million use facilities that do not meet minimum standards of hygiene. Further, in 2011, one billion people still defecated in the open. Ninety per cent of all open defecation takes place in rural areas, the report states, also noting the “striking disparity” between urban and rural dwellers regarding access to water and sanitation services.

“This is an emergency no less horrifying than a massive earthquake or tsunami,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme.

“Every day hundreds of children are dying; every day thousands of parents mourn their sons and daughters. We can and must act in the face of this colossal daily human tragedy.”

The report summarizes the shared vision of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector including academia, human rights and global monitoring communities for a post-2015 world where, among other progress, no one defecated in the open; everyone had safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home and at schools and health centres; and where inequalities in access were eliminated.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Deputy UN chief calls for urgent action to tackle global sanitation crisis

Related Stories