With five years to go before the deadline for halving the number of people with access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, the United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warn in a report released today that without stepped up efforts, nearly one billion people will be overlooked.
We all recognize the vital importance of water and sanitation to human health and well-being and their role as an engine of development. The question now lies in how to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDG [Millennium Development Goal] targets and most importantly how to leap a step further to ultimately achieve the vision of universal access, " said Maria Neira, WHO`s Director for the Department of Public Health and Environment.
Increasing access to clean water and sanitation forms part of one of the eight MDGs, which were agreed on by world leaders to improve human lives by 2015.
Nearly 39 per cent of the world`s population, or over 2.6 billion people, live without improved sanitation facilities, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme Report on Water Supply and Sanitation titled Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water: 2010 Update. "
The report " presenting the latest data on improved sources of sanitation and drinking-water in 209 countries or territories " is aimed at assisting policy-makers, donors, government and non-governmental agencies decide what needs to be done.
We need to not only focus on reaching the water and sanitation MDG targets but also on achieving them with equity, ensuring that the most vulnerable groups and those hard to reach share in the successes achieved elsewhere, " said Tessa Wardlaw, UNICEF`s Chief of Statistics and Monitoring.
Despite the world population being nearly equally divided between rural and urban areas, those in the rural areas are worse off, the new report finds.
Seven out of 10 people are without basic sanitation facilities and some eight out of 10 people lack access to improved drinking-water sources.
The report also notes that open defecation " which it terms the riskiest sanitation practice of all " " is on the decline worldwide, marking a drop globally from 25 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2008, or a decrease by168 million people.
However, the practice is still widespread in Southern Asia, where an estimated 44 per cent of the population defecates in the open, according to the report.
Unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene are dangerous for children, with an estimated 1.5 million under the age of five dying of related causes each year.
Women and children are especially vulnerable, given that they are more burdened than boys with collecting drinking water.
"With almost 884 million people living without access to safe drinking-water and approximately three times that number lacking basic sanitation we must act now as one global community to ensure water and sanitation for all, " said Clarissa Brocklehurst of UNICEF.