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2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, more than twice as many lack safe sanitation

WHO, UNICEF release first global estimates for water, sanitation and hygiene for the Sustainable Development Goals  

14 JULY 2017| Dhaka |Bangladesh – Some 3 in 10 people worldwide, or 2.1 billion, lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and 6 in 10, or 4.4 billion, lack safely managed sanitation, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report (JMP), Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and Sustainable Development Goal Baselines, presents the first global assessment of “safely managed” drinking water and sanitation services. The overriding conclusion is that too many people still lack access, particularly in rural areas.

“Safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home should not be a privilege of only those who are rich or live in urban centres,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization. “These are some of the most basic requirements for human health, and all countries have a responsibility to ensure that everyone can access them.”

Billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and sanitation services since 2000, but these services do not necessarily provide safe water and sanitation. Many homes, healthcare facilities and schools also still lack soap and water for handwashing.  This puts the health of all people – but especially young children – at risk for diseases, such as diarrhoea.

As a result, every year, 361 000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and contaminated water are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

“Safe water, effective sanitation and hygiene are critical to the health of every child and every community – and thus are essential to building stronger, healthier, and more equitable societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “As we improve these services in the most disadvantaged communities and for the most disadvantaged children today, we give them a fairer chance at a better tomorrow.”

To decrease global inequalities, the new SDGs call for ending open defecation and achieving universal access to basic services by 2030.

Of the 2.1 billion people who do not have safely managed water, 844 million do not have even a basic drinking water service. This includes 263 million people who have to spend over 30 minutes per trip collecting water from sources outside the home, and 159 million who still drink untreated water from surface water sources, such as streams or lakes. 

The report shows that 97% people in Bangladesh have access to basic water supply, according to the MDG indicator for water. This is a significant achievement for the country with a large population and many challenges. The report also shows the SDG benchmark indicators, which are much more stringent than the MDG indicators. Access to safely managed water is 56% for Bangladesh, meaning 71 million people do not have safely managed water. This includes arsenic and bacteriological contamination, which was not measured under the MDGs.

In 90 countries, progress towards basic sanitation is too slow, meaning they will not reach universal coverage by 2030.

Of the 4.4 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation, 2.3 billion still do not have basic sanitation services. This includes 600 million people who share a toilet or latrine with other households, and 892 million people – mostly in rural areas – who defecate in the open. Due to population growth, open defecation is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.

The JMP report indicates that Bangladesh is open defecation free, based on the projected estimate from the MICS 2013. However, the MICS 2018 is expected to show that less than 2 per cent people practice open defecation, also an incredible achievement down from 18 per cent in 2000. The SDG measure for sanitation poses new challenges as well and the indicator is referred to as ‘safely managed sanitation’. It includes the monitoring of the final disposal of human waste. Like many developing countries, this figure is currently unavailable for Bangladesh. The report states that in rural areas only 32% people have safely managed sanitation, setting a massive challenge for the country to meet the SDG target of 100% by 2030.

Good hygiene is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease. For the first time, the SDGs are monitoring the percentage of people who have facilities to wash their hands at home with soap and water.  According to the new report, access to water and soap for handwashing varies immensely in the 70 countries with available data, from 15 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa to 76 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. It is benchmarked as 40% for Bangladesh.

Overall, this new report shows that although Bangladesh has made considerable gains over the past 17 years in achieving water and sanitation goals, much needs to be done by 2030 to achieve the SDGs.

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