Too many people still lack basic drinking water and sanitation – UN report

A child carrying water at the Tomping civilian protection site, 6 May 2014. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

8 May 2014 – Despite a narrowing disparity in access to cleaner water and better sanitation between rural and urban areas, sharp inequalities still persist around the world, says a new United Nations report.

According to the 2014 Joint Monitoring Report on global progress against the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on water and sanitation, more than half of the global population lives in cities, and urban areas are still better supplied with improved water and sanitation than rural ones. But this gap is decreasing.

The report, produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), notes that in 1990, more than 76 per cent of people living in urban areas had access to improved sanitation, as opposed to only 28 per cent in rural ones. By 2012, 80 per cent of urban dwellers and 47 per cent of rural ones had access to better sanitation.

In 1990, 95 per cent of people in urban areas could drink improved water, compared with 62 per cent of people in rural ones. By 2012, 96 per cent of people living in towns and 82 per cent of those in rural areas had access to improved water.

Despite this progress, sharp geographic, socio-cultural, and economic inequalities in access to improved drinking water and sanitation facilities still persist around the world.

“The vast majority of those without improved sanitation are poorer people living in rural areas. Progress on rural sanitation – where it has occurred – has primarily benefitted richer people, increasing inequalities,” said Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“Too many people still lack a basic level of drinking water and sanitation,” added Dr. Neira. “The challenge now is to take concrete steps to accelerate access to disadvantaged groups. An essential first step is to track better who, when and how people access improved sanitation and drinking water, so we can focus on those who don’t yet have access to these basic facilities.”

In addition to the disparities between urban and rural areas, there are often also striking differences in access within towns and cities. People living in low-income, informal or illegal settlements or on the outskirts of cities or small towns are less likely to have access to an improved water supply or better sanitation.

“When we fail to provide equal access to improved water sources and sanitation we are failing the poorest and the most vulnerable children and their families,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. “If we hope to see children healthier and better educated, there must be more equitable and fairer access to improved water and sanitation.”

Poor sanitation and contaminated water are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid. In addition, inadequate or absent water and sanitation services in health care facilities put already vulnerable patients at additional risk of infection and disease.

Overall, since 1990, almost 2 billion people globally have gained access to improved sanitation, and 2.3 billion have gained access to drinking water from improved sources. Some 1.6 billion of these people have piped water connections in their homes or compounds.


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