24.06.2019 |

Over 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, UN

The burden of collecting water falls primarily on women and girls (Photo: CC0)

Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water and 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, the UN has warned. According to a report released on June 18th by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are vast inequalities in the accessibility, availability and quality of drinking water services. Of the 2.2 billion people who do not have safely managed water services, 1.4 million lack basic services, which means that they do not have drinking water from sources located on premises, free from contamination and available when needed. 206 million people with limited services have to spend over 30 minutes per trip collecting water from sources outside the home and 435 million people take water from unprotected wells and springs. 144 million people have to drink untreated water from untreated surface water sources, such as lakes, ponds, and streams, more than half of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are big gaps in services between urban and rural areas. Eight out of ten people still lacking even basic services live in rural areas, nearly half of them in the world’s least developed countries. “Children and their families in poor and rural communities are most at risk of being left behind. Governments must invest in their communities if we are going to bridge these economic and geographic divides and deliver this essential human right,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF.

Of the 4.2 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation services, i.e. hygienic toilets from which wastes are treated and disposed of safely, 2 billion do not even have access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. This includes 627 million people who share a toilet or latrine with other households and 701 million people who used unimproved facilities, such as pit latrines without slabs and hanging or bucket latrines. 673 million still defecate in the open, for example in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water. Open defecation perpetuates a vicious cycle of disease and poverty. The countries where open defection is most widespread have the highest number of deaths of children aged under 5 years as well as the highest levels of malnutrition and poverty, and big disparities of wealth. Between 2000 and 2017, 91 countries reduced open defecation by a combined total of 696 million people, with Central and Southern Asia accounting for three quarters of this reduction. However, in 39 countries, the number of people practicing open defecation actually increased, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa where many countries have experienced strong population growth over this period.

Faster progress will be required in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, which call for achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all as well as achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, ending open defecation. “Countries must double their efforts on sanitation or we will not reach universal access by 2030,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “If countries fail to step up efforts on sanitation, safe water and hygiene, we will continue to live with diseases that should have been long ago consigned to the history books: diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and neglected tropical diseases (…). Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways. It is an essential foundation for good health.” (ab)

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