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Children pay the price for lack of safe water and sanitation

UNICEF report says progress made, but more needed to prevent the deaths of more than 1.5 million children under five each year

NEW YORK, 28 September 2006 – More than 1.2 billion people have gained access to safe water since 1990, according to Progress for Children:  A Report Card on Water and Sanitation, launched today by UNICEF.   

View the full report [pdf]

The report charts progress towards Millennium Development Goal seven which includes the target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.  Between 1990 and 2004, global coverage of safe drinking water rose from 78 per cent to 83 per cent.

Latin America and the Caribbean and the South Asia regions will meet the drinking water target almost ten years early.

“The progress made to date in increasing the number of people with access to safe water has been impressive,” says UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.  “However, unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation contribute to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million children under five each year as a result of diarrhoea.”

Examining sanitation, the report finds that an estimated 1.2 billion people have gained access to basic sanitation since 1990, with global coverage rising from 49 per cent to 59 per cent.  In South Asia, access to improved sanitation more than doubled between 1990 and 2004.  In East Asia and the Pacific, the proportion of people with basic sanitation rose from 30 per cent to more than 50 per cent. 

“Despite commendable progress, an estimated 425 million children under the age of 18 still do not have access to an improved water supply and over 980 million do not have access to adequate sanitation,” says Veneman.  “Clean water and sanitation are vital prerequisites for improved nutrition, reductions in child and maternal mortality and the fight against disease.”

Water-and sanitation-related illness can affect children’s school attendance and academic performance.  Girls, in particular, may be deterred from schooling by the need to fetch and carry water for their families, and by the lack of separate sanitation facilities. 

Improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrhoea-related diseases in young children by more than one-third, says the report.  With better hygiene practices, such diseases could be reduced by two thirds.

While the world is on track to meet the water target, progress could be impaired if the provision of safe water to the world’s poorest communities is not made a priority.

Sanitation is a much greater challenge.  Despite significant gains, the world is not on track to meet the MDG target for sanitation.  In South Asia, for example, two out of three people still lack basic sanitation.

The report says that the benefits of improved drinking water and sanitation are evident and could be extended to many more of the world’s people, if only sufficient resources and resolve were dedicated to the task.


For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

Attention broadcasters:  video available at www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef

For more information:

Jessica Malter, UNICEF Media: Tel + 1 212 326 7412, jmalter@unicef.org





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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