World “almost there” on drinking water targets
December 22, 2011, New York – UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) today release a report showing that the Millennium Development Goal of improving access to safe drinking water will likely be achieved ahead of the 2015 target date.
“The good news is that almost 1.8 billion more people now have access to drinking water compared to the start of the 1990s,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF associate director and water and sanitation chief. “The bad news is that the poorest and most marginalised are being left behind.”
The report, Drinking Water Equity, Safety and Sustainability, by the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, says between 1990 and 2008, the proportion of the world’s population with access to improved drinking water sources increased from 77 per cent to 87 per cent. That means the world will soon meet the MDG target to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
However, the report stresses, even though good progress has been made, at the current rate, 672 million people will still not be using improved drinking water sources in 2015.
According to the report, there are many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia, eastern Asia and south-eastern Asia that are not on track to meet the target despite progress.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, total access has significantly increased since 1990, jumping from 49 per cent to 60 per cent, and reaching an additional 126 million people in urban areas and 111 million in rural areas. However, population growth has outstripped the progress to the extent that the actual number of people without access was greater in 2008 than it was in 1990.
The report found that the richest 20 per cent in sub-Saharan African countries are more than twice as likely to use an improved drinking water source as the poorest 20 per cent. In addition, poor people in rural areas have the lowest access to safe drinking water, with the greatest burden in collecting water falling to women and girls.
Globally, more than eight out of 10 persons without an improved drinking water source live in rural areas. However, the proportion of the rural population in developing regions using piped drinking water on premises was still only 31 per cent in 2008, up from 21 per cent in 1990. In urban areas it went from 71 per cent to 73 per cent during the same period. This proves, says the report, that investment in water and sanitation is not being optimized – almost two-thirds of total official development assistance for drinking water and sanitation goes to the development of large urban systems.
The report says that even when there is access to water, it is often not safe for drinking. Water quality surveys show that many improved drinking water sources—such as piped supplies, boreholes and protected wells—do not conform to WHO guidelines. On average, half of all protected dug wells may be contaminated, along with one-third of protected springs and boreholes.
Climate change also poses threats to water infrastructure. The increasing frequency of droughts and floods could lead to loss of functioning which would set back progress in drinking water supply, and affect other MDG targets. The report concludes that investments should, therefore, be aimed at making systems and services more resilient in the face of extreme weather conditions.