The Progress of Nations

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 The lost children
 Data briefs: Progress and disparity

Billions still lack clean water and sanitation

Despite the fact that every year nearly 2 million children die from diarrhoeal and other water-related diseases, the world remains unable to get clean water and adequate sanitation to those who most desperately need them. Some slight improvements have been made over the past decade: Globally, water supply coverage is up from 78% in 1990 to 82% in 1999. More than 800 million people gained access to clean water. And sanitation coverage is up from 54% in 1990 to 59% in 1999.

However, in absolute terms, the increases have not kept pace with the need: More than 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water and approximately 2.5 billion people – more than one third of the world’s population – have no sanitary means of excreta disposal.

In the 16 most populous developing countries – representing 80% of all the world’s people – sanitation coverage remains a greater challenge than access to water. In China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and India alike, less than half of the population has access to adequate sanitation facilities. Even when coverage rises, as it has in Bangladesh (from 37% in 1990 to 53% in 1999) and Pakistan (from 34% to 59% over the same period), large numbers of people remain at risk from the lack of safe excreta disposal.

Of the nearly 2 million children who die from diarrhoeal and other water-related diseases, almost all are under the age of five.

Millions also suffer from parasitic worm infections that stem from the presence of human excreta and solid wastes in the environment and cause anaemia, malnutrition and sometimes death.

Along with disease and fatalities, there are other, more subtle hardships, including the squalor of life in communities that lack clean water and adequate sanitation facilities and the time burden, which falls disproportionately on girls at the expense of their schooling and on women at the expense of their own health and child-care tasks.

Access to clean water is generally improving around the world, but some countries still lag: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Viet Nam, for instance, access levels are all below 60%.

And in some countries, such as Bangladesh, arsenic contamination is rendering the available water presumed to be clean and safe dangerously unsafe.

Reaching people in rural areas is still the greatest challenge. More than a quarter (29%) of the world’s rural population lacks access to clean water and nearly two thirds (64%) lacks access to sanitation facilities.

And in urban areas, high population growth rates are outpacing increases in both water and sanitation coverage.

The world will not meet the 1990 World Summit goal of universal access to safe water and sanitation by the year 2000, but that task, vastly compounded by burgeoning urban populations, remains as urgent today as it was a decade ago.

Copyright© UNICEF/99-0594/Pirozzi
Residents of a village in northern Iraq fetch water from a UNICEF-installed pump. More than 1 billion people still lack access to clean drinking water globally and 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation.


Water and sanitation: Now and then
% of population covered, in the 16 largest developing countries

Clean water sources*

Sanitation facilities**

1999 (1990) 1999 (1990)

Bangladesh 97 (91) Thailand 96 (86)
Egypt 95 (94) Egypt 94 (87)
Iran 95 (86) Turkey 92 (88)
India 88 (78) Philippines 83 (74)
Pakistan 88 (84) Iran 81 (81)
Philippines 87 (87) Mexico 73 (69)
Mexico 86 (83) Viet Nam 73 (No data)
Brazil 83 (83) Brazil 72 (63)
Turkey 82  (78) Indonesia 65 (54)
Thailand 80 (71) Nigeria 63 (60)
Indonesia 76 (69) Pakistan 59 (34)
China 75  (71) Bangladesh 53 (37)
Nigeria 57 (49) China 38 (29)
Viet Nam 56 (No data) India 31 (21)
Congo, Dem. Rep. 45 (No data) Congo, Dem. Rep. 20 (No data)
Ethiopia 24 (22) Ethiopia 15 (13)

Total population covered, world (in millions)

Clean water sources*

Sanitation facilities**


(1990) Change


(1990) Change


(4,110) +821


(2,826) +772   

*These include house connections, public standpipes, boreholes with handpumps, protected dug wells, protected springs, rainwater collection. Tanker trucks and bottled water are not included. The data do not imply that the level of services or quality of water is adequate or safe. No discounting was made to allow for intermittence of services or quality of the water supply.

**These include connection to a sewer or septic system, pour-flush latrine, simple pit or ventilated improved pit latrine and other facilities as long as they are private or shared (but not public). Types not considered safe are bucket latrine, overhang latrine, open latrine, uncovered pit latrine or open field, ‘bush’ sanitation.

Source: UNICEF/WHO estimates, March 2000, for the forthcoming Year 2000 Global Assessment of the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector, by UNICEF/WHO/Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (expected publication date: October 2000).
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