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Water and sanitation remain huge challenges in East Asia and the Pacific

Progress for children on water and sanitation

BANGKOK, 28 September 2006

East Asia and the Pacific is broadly on track to achieve the Millennium Development target on water and sanitation even as a vast number of households in the region lack access to these essentials, says a report by UNICEF launched today.

One half of the region’s population –  almost one billion people – live without basic sanitation facilities and 20 per cent – or 400 million – have no access to drinking water, according to Progress For Children: A Report Card on Water and Sanitation.

“One third of the world’s population without access to adequate sanitation live in this region,” said UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Director Anupama Rao Singh. “Children are particularly hard hit by the lack of safe water and sanitation. Daily deprivation of these basics not only imperils their health but traps them in a vicious cycle of poverty.”

Millennium Development Goal 7 – to ensure environmental sustainability – aims to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation from 1990 to 2015.  The UNICEF report* presents the latest available data – from 2004 – measuring where countries and regions stand on the MDG target on water and sanitation.

East Asia and the Pacific has made progress in this sector since 1990, although not as much as might be expected given its buoyant economic growth rate. Access to improved water in the region rose from 72 per cent a decade and a half ago to 79 per cent in 2004 – meaning an additional 333 million people benefited, according to the report.  The region’s gains were significantly better for sanitation coverage, which leapt from 30 per cent in 1990 to 51 per cent in 2004.

Unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene are especially lethal for children, causing diarrhoeal diseases which are big killers in low income countries. An estimated 187,000 children die from diarrhoea each year in the region and at least 26 million school-age children suffer from heavy intestinal worm infections.  Provision of basic water and sanitation is essential to combating child mortality and cutting poverty, goals which lie at the heart of the millennium development agenda.

China and Viet Nam in particular have made great strides in water and sanitation provision over the 14-year period to 2004. China’s huge population means that changes there strongly influence regional statistics, though East Asia and the Pacific would still be on track to meet its MDG target in water and sanitation if the country were excluded from the regional average. Some 85 per cent of Viet Nam’s population had access to drinking water in 2004, up from 65 per cent in 1990, while sanitation coverage has risen to 61 per cent from 36 per cent.

However, much more remains to be done over the next 10 years if the region as a whole is to meet the MDG 7 water and sanitation commitment. To ensure that 65 per cent of East Asia and the Pacific’s population has access to basic sanitation (the 2015 target), some 373 million more people will need household facilities such as pour flush latrines, pit latrines with slab or composting toilets. These are considered the lowest-cost options for safe and hygienic disposal of excreta.  Shared or communal facilities are not considered to be improved.

To achieve the regional target for water of 86 per cent coverage, 272 million more people – 27 million every year  –  will need to gain access to water from an improved source such as water piped to the household, water from a public tap, a borehole, a protected spring or dugwell, or from rainwater collection.

Yet even meeting the MDG target in 2015 will still leave nearly one third of the region’s population (735 million people) without access to a latrine or toilet and almost 300 million people without drinking water. 

“Given the bright prospects for growth and development in the region over the next ten years, there is no reason why so many should still face this kind of privation,” UNICEF’s Rao Singh said. “We urge countries to go beyond the target to invest in water and sanitation for all children, and especially those who are marginalized or live in remote areas.”

Growing urbanization and greater investment in urban infrastructure has led to rapidly rising disparities in the provision of services between cities and rural areas, a challenge that risks slowing overall progress in the region.  While 92 per cent of the region’s urban population benefited from improved drinking water in 2004, the figure was 70 per cent in rural areas.

The inequity is even larger in sanitation, with coverage twice as high in urban areas (73 percent) than in rural areas (36 per cent).  Countries where the gap is particularly big include Indonesia, Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and China.  In China, rural sanitation coverage quadrupled, from 7 per cent to 28 per cent in the 1990-2004 period. Nevertheless, that leaves more than 600 million people in China’s rural areas still without access to basic facilities.

Of the major countries in the region, the Philippines is making insufficient progress to reach the 2015 drinking water target and Indonesia is lagging behind on sanitation.

Globally, more than 125 million children under five years of age live in households with no access to improved water and more than 280 million children without access to improved sanitation facilities.

*Regional averages do not include data from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Taiwan Province of China. The data come from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.


Attention broadcasters:  video available at

For further information please contact:

Madeline Eisner, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, (662) 356 9406, Email:

Tani Ruiz, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, (662) 356 9409, Email:



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