Water for Life Voices

Access to water

Access to safe water and adequate sanitation services has proven to be one of the most efficient ways of improving human health but has other important benefits ranging from the easily identifiable and quantifiable (costs avoided, time saved) to the more intangible (convenience, well-being, dignity, privacy and safety).

On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.

The work of many to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on water and sanitation has resulted in unprecedented progress despite significant population growth.

  • The target of halving the proportion of people without access to an improved drinking water source was achieved in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. In 2012, 89% of the world’s population had access to an improved source, up from 76% in 1990. Over 2.3 billion people gained access to an improved source of drinking water between 1990 and 2012 out of which there were 1.6 billion people who had gained access to a piped drinking water supply on the premises—the highest level of service, associated with the best health outcomes.
  • Eastern Asia, Southern Asia and South-Eastern Asia recorded the largest increases in the proportion of the population using an improved drinking water source, with rises of 24, 19 and 18 percentage points, respectively.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, where the initial coverage had been low, the proportion of the population with access to an improved drinking water source increased by 16 percentage points between 1990 and 2012, despite significant population growth.

But there is still much to do as many people still rely on unsafe water sources.

  • There were 748 million people still relying on unsafe drinking water sources in 2012, of which 173 million obtained their drinking water straight from rivers, streams or ponds. The remaining population relied on unprotected, open wells or poorly protected natural springs.
  • In 2012, 45 countries in the world were not on track to meet the MDG water target.
  • Additionally, those populations using an improved drinking water sources may not necessarily have access to safe water. Many improved facilities are microbiologically contaminated.
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