SOME 650 million people are still without an ‘improved’ source of water and 2.4 billion do not have a basic, hygienic toilet, a joint monitoring program report by UNICEF and WHO has revealed.
The regular update is the last under the Millennium Development Goals, a set of UN ambitions which set out in 2000 to halve the proportion of people without access to water and sanitation, among other goals.
As these goals expire this year, the goal on water has been met overall, but with wide gaps remaining, particularly in the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The goal on sanitation, however, has failed dramatically, again particularly in the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. At present rates of progress it would take 300 years for everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa to get access to a sanitary toilet.
At the last update, in 2014, 748 million people were found to not have access to an ‘improved’ water source and 2.5 billion were without basic, sanitary toilets.
“Though we are glad to see overall progress, this data tells us that very little has changed for the world’s poorest people when it comes to access to water and sanitation. For our near neighbours the situation is still dire. Use of ‘improved’ sanitation facilities has remained stagnant in the Pacific, and while South East Asia achieved a significant increase in sanitation coverage it narrowly missed the target. Pleasingly there has been a decrease in open defecation practices in Cambodia and Vietnam,” WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Paul Nichols said.
For the first time, the joint monitoring report also includes analysis on hygiene behaviour alongside safe water and improved sanitation, highlighting wide variability in the presence of handwashing facilities with basic soap and water.
“Communities without safe water and basic toilets have higher rates of illness and are held back from economic progress. Children spend long hours fetching water instead of at school, parents are less able to spend time earning incomes and hospitals fill with people suffering from preventable water-borne illnesses. The burden is disproportionally felt by women and girls, who are most often tasked with collecting water and who are most at risk of harassment and worse if they are without a safe, private place to relieve themselves,” Mr Nichols added.
Handwashing has been called the most cost-effective health intervention available by the World Bank, but has been poorly measured, funded or researched to date.
Next month world leaders will travel to the UN International Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss how to finance the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, ahead of their finalising and adoption in New York in September. Access to clean water, basic sanitation and good hygiene, as presently outlined in Goal 6, are critical to the creation of a healthier, more equitable world.
WaterAid has also lobbied for water- and sanitation-related indicators in goals on health, education and gender rights. Sanitation was among the most off-track in the Millennium Development Goals, a mistake that cannot be repeated.
In all goals, careful monitoring and the use of indicators on progress, including whether the poorest are being reached with basic access, whether water is safe and affordable, and whether wastewater is safely treated, will help ensure no one is left behind and governments are held accountable for their promise.
“As the UN prepares to adopt new development goals this September, mapping out ways to eradicate extreme poverty while building a healthier more sustainable world by 2030, water and sanitation must play a key role. Without these basic human rights, no society can progress. It is possible to reach everyone, everywhere with access to clean water and basic toilets by 2030 – but it will require dedicated political will and financing to achieve this.”
Image Credit: WaterAid.org