Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

‘Progress for Children’ reports mixed results on access to water and sanitation worldwide

UNICEF Image: Progress for Children: Water and Sanitation
© UNICEF/HQ95-0340/Charton
A woman carrying a baby on her back smiles as she fills a clay pot with water from a tap in Shan State, Myanmar. UNICEF supplied pipes and fittings for the spring-fed, gravity-flow water supply system.

By Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, USA, 28 September 2006 – Safe water is fundamental to human life, yet more than 1 billion people do not have access to it. Another 2.6 billion live without basic sanitation. Under Millennium Development Goal 7, the world has pledged to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to these essential services by 2015.

In a new report released today – ‘Progress for Children No. 5: A Report Card on Water and Sanitation’ – UNICEF assesses the results of efforts since 1990 to expand access to safe water and basic sanitation worldwide.

The report’s conclusions on global progress toward MDG 7 are mixed, with impressive achievements made but much more work needed to prevent 1.5 million child deaths each year.

UNICEF Image: Progress for Children: Water and Sanitation
© UNICEF/HQ94-1315/Pirozzi
A garbage-strewn beach in Cameroon. The West and Central Africa region has the world’s lowest water and sanitation coverage and its highest under-five mortality rate.

Toll on children

While an ever-growing population and rapid urbanization are increasing the challenge, the world is essentially on track to meet the goal for safe water, the report concludes. Still, millions of people in the developing world, including an estimated 425 million children under the age of 18, still do not have access to an improved water supply.

And the report finds that indicators on sanitation are worse. Over 980 million children still do not have access to adequate sanitation.

‘Progress for Children’ details the price that children pay for the lack of safe water and proper sanitation. Among its main points:

  • Of all babies born in the developing world each year, around half live without basic sanitation and one in five without access to safe drinking water, increasing the risk of water-borne illness

  • Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation, combined with poor hygiene, contribute to the deaths of more than 1.5 million children under the age of five die from diarrhoea each year

  • Factors such as illness, the daily journey to fetch water and the absence of hygienic facilities in schools keep older children – particularly girls – out of class and uneducated, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

UNICEF Image: Progress for Children: Water and Sanitation
© UNICEF/HQ06-1422/ Berkwitz
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and Uganda's Minister of State for Water Maria Mutagamba announcing the launch of 'Progress for Children No. 5'. The report says 1.2 billion people have gained access to safe water since 1990.

Urban-rural divide

Beyond the clear impact of inadequate water and sanitation on child health, the daily struggle to find clean water is itself a major obstacle to development, according to UNICEF Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation Vanessa Tobin.

“It’s the impact of the time that it takes for young women and young girls to carry water – sometimes up to two hours in the morning or up to two hours in the evening – as a result of the fact that any water supply is so far from their community,” she said.

The urban-rural divide reveals some of the largest disparities in access to safe water and basic sanitation, most obviously in sub-Saharan Africa, where less than half of the population in rural communities has access to safe water.

Overall, ‘Progress for Children No. 5’ finds that between 1990 and 2004, global safe-water coverage rose from 78 per cent to 83 per cent. Two regions – Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia – will meet the drinking water target almost a decade early. And the East Asia/Pacific region is on track to meet both the water and sanitation targets.

Despite hopeful results in these and other regions, however, the report concludes that currently available resources will not suffice to reach MDG 7 on a global scale.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ94-1569/Pirozzi
Girls collect drinking water in Tunisia. The Middle East and North Africa region is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal 7 targets for both safe water and basic sanitation.

Task force accelerates efforts

To step up the pace toward achieving water and sanitation targets, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman today announced the formation of a high-level task force that held its first meeting shortly after the launch of ‘Progress for Children’ in New York. The group includes representatives from the public and private sectors as well as technical experts.

“I think it is critical, because there is so much to be done, that we work very closely with all our partners,” said Ms. Veneman.

Only through accelerated efforts like this, accompanied by increased funding and greater political will, can the world’s children and families attain their fundamental right to safe water and basic sanitation.

Rachel Bonham Carter contributed to this story.


 

 

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25 September 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on global progress toward the Millennium Development Goal targets for water and sanitation.
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28 September 2006:
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman discusses the importance of providing safe drinking water for children.
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28 September 2006:
Ugandan Minister of State for Water Maria Mutagamba speaks at the launch of ‘Progress for Children: A Report Card on Water and Sanitation’.
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