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A REPORT CARD ON WATER AND SANITATION: NUMBER 5, SEPTEMBER 2006 View Previous Editions>

Brazil, Chile and Paraguay have achieved universal or near universal coverage of improved drinking-water sources in urban areas, but coverage in rural areas remains low.

The chart shows rural-area coverage in 2004.

Latin America/Caribbean

Latin America/Caribbean’s under-five mortality rate dropped 43 per cent between1990 and 2004. And in terms of both water and sanitation, 16 of the region’s 33 countries are on track to meet their MDG targets.

But the distribution of drinking water and sanitation services follows a pattern of inequity characteristic of a region with acute socio-economic disparities. Within the countries of Latin America/Caribbean, urban-rural disparities are particularly wide, as are intra-rural disparities.

Overall drinking-water coverage increased from 83 per cent in 1990 to 91 per cent in 2004. The region is relatively rich in available water resources, though there are large arid and high-elevation pockets where water scarcity is a serious issue. The absolute number of people without access to improved drinking-water sources was reduced by about one third, from 74 million in 1990 to 50 million in 2004.

Sanitation coverage increased from 68 per cent to 77 per cent between 1990 and 2004, and 127 million people were reached in that period. Yet if the goal is to be met, a further 103 million will need to gain access between now and 2015.

Urban drinking-water coverage in the region is very high, at 96 per cent. But rural coverage lags behind at 73 per cent, and 34 million of the 50 million people without access to improved drinking-water sources live in rural areas.

These disparities are even more extreme for sanitation. Although 86 per cent of urban people have access to improved sanitation facilities, they are available to only 49 per cent of the rural population.

Large disparities in water and sanitation access persist in the region along social and economic lines, as well. Much poorer levels of service are common among indigenous populations, in poor urban areas, and in populations of African descendants.

Hurricanes, floods and earthquakes are common in the region, often with devastating effects on water supplies and public health. Between 1994 and 2003 the economic losses in water and sanitation were about $650 million, as a result of at least 2,100 urban systems damaged, 4,500 rural aqueducts affected, and 28,000 wells and 173,000 latrines destroyed.

Urban-rural disparities in access to improved sanitation facilities remain a challenge in countries of Latin America/Caribbean.