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Home » Karachi

Improved drinking water sources now available for over 2bln people: WHO, UNICEF report

March 8, 2012

Karachi: World Health Organization WHO and UNICEF report says between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. Improved drinking water sources are those designed to be protected from outside contamination, particularly faecal matter.

The world has met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, well in advance of the MDG 2015 deadline. The report, Progress on Drinking Water & Sanitation 2012, by WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply & Sanitation, said at the end of 2010, 89% of world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources. This was 1% more than 88% MDG target. It estimated that by 2015, 92% of global population would have access to improved drinking water.

“For children this is especially good news,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Every day more than 3,000 children die from diarrhoeal diseases. Achieving this target will go a long way to saving children’s lives.” He warned victory could not yet be declared as at least 11% of world’s population 783 million people were still without access to safe drinking water, and billions without sanitation facilities. “The numbers are still staggering,” he said. “But progress announced is proof that MDG targets can be met with will effort and funds.”

The report highlighted, however, that the world was still far from meeting part of MDG target for sanitation and was unlikely to do so by 2015. Only 63% of world now has improved sanitation access, a figure projected to increase only to 67% by 2015, well below 75% aim in MDGs. Currently 2.5 billion people still lack improved sanitation, it said.

UNICEF & WHO cautioned that since measurement of water quality is not possible globally, progress towards MDG target of safe drinking water is measured through gathering data on use of improved drinking water sources. Significant work must be done to ensure that improved sources of water are and remain safe.

“Providing sustainable access to improved drinking water sources is one of most important things we can do to reduce disease,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “But this achievement is only beginning. We must continue to ensure this access remains safe. Otherwise our gains will be in vain.’

The report highlighted immense challenges that remain. Global figures mask massive disparities between regions and countries, and within countries. Only 61% of people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to improved water supply sources compared with 90% or more in Latin America, the Caribbean, Northern Africa, and large parts of Asia. Over 40% of all people globally who lack access to drinking water live in sub-Saharan Africa.

It confirmed that in cases where water supplies are not readily accessible, burden of carrying water falls disproportionately on women and girls. In many countries, wealthiest people have seen greatest improvement in water and sanitation access, while poorest still lag far behind. It provided latest update on rural areas across the globe, stressing need for greater attention both to water and sanitation. In rural areas in least developed countries, 97 out of every 100 people did not have piped water and 14% of population drinks surface water—for example, from rivers, ponds, or lakes.

Of 1.1 billion people who still practiced open defecation, vast majority (949 million) lived in rural areas. That affected even regions with high levels of improved water access. 17% of rural dwellers in Latin America & Caribbean and 9% in Northern Africa still resorted to open defecation. Even so-called BRIC countries, with rapidly growing economies, had large numbers of people who practiced open defecation: 626 million in India, 14 million in China, and 7.2 million in Brazil.

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