UNICEF says 2.1 billion people still lack basic water and sanitation services

Globally 844 million people still lack even basic water services. That’s 844 million people who have to travel long distances to collect contaminated water for drinking and cooking.

A new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) shows exactly how unequal access to water to is around the world.

Speaking at the release of the report, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said water was a basic requirement for human health. “Safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home should not be a privilege of only those who are rich or live in urban centres,” he said.

Access to clean water is vital to public health. According to the UN, more than two million people die – most of them children – from diarrhoeal diseases each year. It says poor hygiene and unsafe water are responsible for nearly 90% of these deaths.

The report is the first ever to document global access to safely managed drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, and collates data from 232 countries. It found that while 71% of the global population have gained access to water and sanitation services since 2000, only one in three people living in rural areas can easily access clean drinking water. The situation was even worse in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 159 million people who rely on surface water sources, 58% live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Decent sanitation still lacking
Progress towards providing decent sanitation and hygiene services is much slower. Globally, only two in five people globally have adequate toilets and water treatment services.

Clean water and adequate sanitation are the first steps in preventing outbreaks of life-threatening communicable diseases like cholera and typhoid, which are spread by poor sanitation and hygiene.

The report said that despite governments providing toilets and safe drinking water, many people are still unable to wash their hands properly. Handwashing is essential in preventing the spread of disease. Using water alone is not enough; people also need access to soap and this is often not available even when there is running water.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a list of 17 goals for ending poverty and ensuring prosperity across world, includes indicators for providing basic hygiene and handwashing facilities. While the data on handwashing facilities was incomplete, the information available showed that sub-Saharan Africa trailed Northern Africa and Western Asia by a wide margin when it came access to basic hand-washing facilities (15% compared to 76%).

The WHO says faster progress is required to meet the UN’s 2030 goal of universal access to water and sanitation.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons