India and Nepal have already met the MDG target on water, and Pakistan has virtually achieved it.
The chart shows progress, 1990–2004.
South Asia’s sanitation coverage is among the lowest in the world, at 37 per cent, about the same as that in sub-Saharan Africa. The 921 million people in the region who live without any toilet facilities represent more than a third of the world’s total.
The situation is of particular concern for the region’s children. Under-five mortality in South Asia is the highest in the developing world outside sub-Saharan Africa.
The region has boosted access to improved drinking-water sources from 71 per cent in 1990 to 85 per cent in 2004 and has virtually met its MDG target of 86 per cent. The absolute number of people without improved drinking-water sources has declined by about a third, from 326 million in 1990 to 222 million in 2004. Some 445 million people gained access over the period, 88 per cent of them in India and Pakistan. But a further 243 million need to be reached by 2015 if the target is to be met.
The proportional increase in access to improved sanitation facilities in South Asia has been even greater than that in drinking water. The rate has more than doubled, from 17 per cent in 1990 to 37 per cent in 2004, but it started from such low levels that the pace will have to be considerably accelerated if the region is to meet its MDG target of 59 per cent. A further 478 million people will need to gain access by 2015.
In sanitation coverage, South Asia has the most severe urban-rural disparities in the world. And while the number of people in urban areas without access to sanitation increased from 139 million in 1990 to 153 million in 2004, urban populations are more than twice as likely as rural populations to have access to sanitation.
In contrast, for access to improved drinking-water sources, South Asia almost halved the urban-rural gap from 1990–2004.
In many areas of South Asia, however, naturally occurring arsenic and fluoride contamination are threatening to reverse the gains made in providing improved drinking water. Unsafe levels of arsenic have been detected in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and other countries. The problem is greatest in Bangladesh.