Half the world still without sanitation and safe water

Over a billion people must drink unsafe water, while nearly half of the world's population have no access to proper sanitation, UN agencies have reported.

A report compiled by UN children’s fund UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that 40% of the earth’s population does not have the most basic sanitation available to them. It also states that, if nothing is done to tackle the problem, around 2.4 billion people will be left drinking unsafe water in 11 years time.

“Around the world, millions of children are being born into a silent emergency of simple needs,” Carol Bellamy, UNICEF’s executive director said. “The growing disparity between the haves and the have nots of access to basic service is killing around 4,000 children every day and underlies many more of the 10 million child deaths each year. We must act now to close this gap or the death toll will surely rise.”

Dirty water and poor hygiene makes children particularly vulnerable to sickness, the report says. Some 1.8 million people are killed by diarrhoea each year, most of those being under five. Millions are also left permanently debilitated by the common illness.

“Water and sanitation are amongst the most important determinants of public health,” said Dr Jong-Wook Lee, director general of WHO. “Wherever people achieve reliable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation they have won a major battle against a wide range of diseases.”

It’s not all bad news from the report, with an estimated 1.1 billion people now having better access to water than they did 12 years ago. But more action still needs to be taken to give people what is their basic human right and meet targets to cut currents figure in half by 2015, according to Dr Lee.

“Countries need to create the political will and resources to serve a billion new urban dwellers and reduce by almost 1 billion the number of rural dwellers without access to adequate sanitation facilities,” he said. “Otherwise, we risk leaving millions, if not billions, out of the development process.”

WHO and UNICEF both hope that the findings of the report will act as a wake up call to all global leaders, as they state that every country still has work to do to eliminate disparities in basic services.

The positive results seen in the report come as a direct result of political prioritisation and a drive to find locally effective solutions, according to Ms Bellamy:

“This report is important because it proves that significant improvements are possible in a short space of time, even in the poorest countries. By identifying trends now and committing to course corrections, we have a real opportunity to ensure that by 2015, these basic essentials of life are available to all.”

By Jane Kettle

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