Water/sanitation gap widening

An estimated 2.9 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation, up from 2.6 billion in 1990. But access to safe water is improving. Today, almost 800 million more people can count on safe water supplies than could in 1990. The number with access increased from 2.5 billion to 3.3 billion. 

Most governments and communities have placed a higher priority on safe water, but that in itself is not a panacea for all ills. Without a stronger commitment to sanitation, it will be difficult to reduce the incidence of diarrhoea, a leading child killer, and other diseases that flourish in unsanitary conditions. Among steps to combat disease and malnutrition, the Convention on the Rights of the Child calls on countries to ensure provision of clean drinking water and sanitation (article 24). 

A strong commitment to sanitation is essential to reducing the incidence of diarrhoea, a leading killer of children under 5.

The table below shows the percentage of people with access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the 15 developing countries with the largest under-5 populations, along with the percentage point gap between the two. In Bangladesh, China, Egypt and India, the gap is greater than 40 percentage points, with Egypt having the widestó54 percentage points. Only in Nigeria is the gap reversed, with 58% of the population having access to sanitation and 51% with access to safe drinking water. 

A small gap is not necessarily a sign of success. Ethiopia, for example, has a small gap, but also the lowest combined access rate among these countries: 25% for safe water and 19% for sanitation. 

Water and sanitation: Coverage disparities  
Coverage gaps in developing countries with the highest under-5 population
% access to
safe water
% access to
% pt. gap
Egypt 83 29 54
India 81 29 52
Bangladesh 97 48 49
China 67 24 43
Brazil 72 44 28
Pakistan 74 47 27
Congo, D. Rep. 42 18 24
Viet Nam 43 22 21
Myanmar 60 43 17
Mexico 83 72 11
Iran 90 81  9
Philippines 86 77  9
Indonesia 61 53  8
Ethiopia 25 19  6
Nigeria 51 58  -7
Data from 1993 to 1995, except Brazil and Ethiopia (1991).  

Sources: WHO, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and UNICEF, Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Monitoring Report: 1996; other government reports; MICS and DHS. 

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