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Global Access To Safe Drinking Water Increased, Sanitation Lagging Behind, WHO-UNICEF Report Finds

A report released Monday by the WHO and UNICEF documents mixed progress in improving drinking water and sanitation conditions worldwide, VOA News reports (Schlein, 3/15). “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,” U.N. News Centre writes (3/15).

VOA News writes: “87 percent of the world’s population or approximately 5.9 billion people are using safe drinking-water sources,” putting the world “on track to meet or even exceed the drinking-water target of the Millennium Development Goals, which aims to cut in half the number of people who do not have access to good water” by 2015 (3/15). Improved sanitation, however, remains out of reach for an estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (3/15).

While “open defecation – which the World Health Organization describes as ‘the riskiest sanitation practice of all’ – is on the decline in many countries … about 1.1 billion still practice it,” the report found, the New York Times writes. “While the percentage of the world population doing so decreased to 17 percent in 2008 from 25 percent in 1990, constant population growth and movement into crowded urban slums mean that the absolute number has grown by 36 million people,” the newspaper writes.

Despite Africa having the fewest toilets, open defecation “is at its worst in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan, where the rate is estimated at 44 percent,” the New York Times writes (McNeil, 3/15).

“Open defecation can lead to deadly diarrhea, worms that enter food sources and the spread of lethal diseases such as cholera and polio,” the Associated Press reports. An estimated 1.5 million children under five die each year due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene, according to the U.N. News Centre (3/15).

Reuters AlertNet writes: “The vast majority of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation live in rural areas, the report found. Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania rank at the bottom in terms of availability of clean water, while Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia lag the most on sanitation” (Dmitracova, 3/15).

ABC News’ “The World Today” examines how a lack of toilets impacts health conditions in southern Asia. The piece features comments by James Wicken, the head of policy and campaigns for Water Aid Australia, and Robert Bos, of the WHO, on conditions on the ground in the region and efforts being made to improve the sanitation (Hall, 3/16).

“We all recognize the vital importance of water and sanitation to human health and well-being and their role as an engine of development,” Maria Neira, WHO’s director for the Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a WHO-UNICEF press release. “The question now lies in how to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDG targets and most importantly how to leap a step further to ultimately achieve the vision of universal access,” Neira added (3/15).

In related news, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports, “About 120 million people lack access systems for potable water and basic health services in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to figures released on Monday at the 2nd Latin American Sanitation Conference.” The article examines the steps needed to achieve the MDGs for the region, a topic being discussed during the conference that runs until Thursday (3/15).

The meeting of the 15th International African Water and Sanitations Congress kicked off Sunday in Kampala, Uganda, the New Times/allAfrica.com reports. “The conference is aimed at assessing the critical challenges facing water and sanitation services delivery in Africa and to identify strategies to mitigate these challenges. … The congress has brought together renowned African and international experts and leaders to discuss water and sanitation challenges facing the continent particularly in the field of water management, climate change as well as energy” (Kabeera, 3/15).