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Global trends towards the MDG water and sanitation targets.

With 83 per cent coverage of improved drinking-water sources in 2004, the world is on track to meet the MDG target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015. But to meet the sanitation target, it will have to double the rate of improvement since 1990.

Water, sanitation and hygiene

Meeting the MDG targets would save the lives of millions of children.

Water is as fundamental to human life as the air we breathe. Yet, ironically, this essence of life can have an injurious impact if its source is not free from pollution and infection – and the most likely pollutant is human faeces that have not been disposed of and have spread because of a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene.

Young children are more vulnerable than any other age group to the ill effects of unsafe water, insufficient quantities of water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene. Globally, 10.5 million children under the age of five die every year, with most of these deaths occurring in developing countries. Lack of safe water, sanitation and adequate hygiene contribute to the leading killers of children under five, including diarrhoeal diseases, pneumonia, neonatal disorders and undernutrition.

This means that Millennium Development Goal 7 – to ensure environmental sustainability – and its associated 2015 targets of reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation are of vital relevance to children. MDG 7 is also crucial in relation to improving nutrition, education and women’s status, and success in this field will thus play a major role in determining whether the world meets its MDG targets across the board.

Globally, more than 125 million children under five years of age live in households without access to an improved drinking-water source, and more than 280 million children under five live in households without access to improved sanitation facilities. Every one of these children is a unique individual whose rights are infringed and whose health is threatened from birth by the lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Hygiene, as well, is an indispensable part of the equation. The simple act of hand washing can have important implications for children’s health and survival, by reducing morbidity and mortality related to diarrhoea, pneumonia and other infectious diseases.