The way forward
The world is on track to meet the target on reducing the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water – though it is struggling to keep pace with population growth and ever-accelerating urbanization. The target on sanitation will plainly not be met unless progress is greatly accelerated, and if it is not, 2.4 billion people will be without access to basic sanitation in 2015. On both targets, sub-Saharan Africa is lagging far behind the progress needed; in relation to sanitation, South Asia still has a very long road to travel, despite more than doubling its provision between 1990 and 2004.
The world’s children have a right to safe water and basic sanitation, and to the health that these sustain. To a large extent, sustained progress in health, nutrition and education depends upon improvements in water and sanitation. The beneficial effect of fully immunizing a child is entirely lost, for example, if that child dies of diarrhoeal disease.
The relatively slow progress in sanitation when compared with that for water indicates an urgent need to pick up the pace. There is widespread acceptance that sanitation services are critical to improving health and to preserving the gains made in other sectors and a growing recognition that hygiene behaviour change is key to saving children’s lives.
Progress towards the MDGs is recognizably failing in three critical areas:
- Mobilizing and maintaining political will at all levels around water- and sanitation-related issues
- Ensuring sufficient national capacity, knowledge and institutional support to allow for an adequate response
- Making services sustainable, and improving the quality of services.