Global drinking water targets met three years early

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people globally without access to safe drinking water has been met, according to a UNICEF report published this morning.

The report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012, issued by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that at the end of 2010, 89% of the world’s population – 6.1bn people – had access to improved drinking water sources*. This means the target of 88% by 2015 has already been met, and the report estimates that by 2015 the proportion is likely to be 92%.

However, this still leaves 783m people around the world who don’t have access to a source of safe drinking water. And there is still a huge global disparity. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only 61% of people have access to a safe source, compared with 90% or more in Northern Africa. In fact, 40% of all people without access live in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the same is not the case for sanitation targets, which at 63%, is still a long way short of the 75% MDG. In fact, the report predicts that by 2015 that figure will only have risen to 67%.

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake described the numbers as “staggering”, but said “the progress announced today is proof that MDG targets can be met with the will, the effort and the funds”.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan agreed, saying: “Providing sustainable access to improved drinking water source is one of the most important things we can do to reduce disease. But this achievement today is only the beginning. We must continue to ensure this access remains safe. Otherwise our gains will be in vain.”

A global push to highlight the issues surrounding drinking water access will include support from singer Lenny Kravitz in the run up to World Water Day, March 22. He will appear in public service announcements for UNICEF.

*As the measurement of water quality globally is not possible, the report’s findings are based on the use of improved drinking water sources.

Will Parsons

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