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Message from the Executive Director

Message from the Executive Director

It is estimated that unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene every year claim the lives of more than 1.5 million children under five years old from diarrhoea. This tragic statistic underscores the need for the world to meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) commitment on water and sanitation: MDG 7, which aims to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

But those who die are by no means the only children affected. Many millions more have their development disrupted and their health undermined by diarrhoeal or water-related disease. In all, more than 1 billion people do not have access to drinking water from improved sources, while 2.6 billion are without basic sanitation – yet these foundations for healthy living are taken for granted by the majority of people on the planet.

Water and sanitation are vital in themselves, but they are also key prerequisites for reducing child and maternal mortality (MDGs 4 and 5) and combating diseases (MDG 6). And they are key to reducing child undernutrition (MDG 1) and achieving universal primary education (MDG 2). Girls, especially, are likely to spend more time in school when they spend less time fetching water and when adequate sanitation facilities are available on school grounds.

This report card, the fifth in a UNICEF series that monitors progress for children towards the MDGs, measures the world’s performance in water and sanitation. It projects that, if current trends continue, the world is on track to meet the target for drinking water – though some countries and regions are lagging behind – but the target for sanitation appears distant.

We cannot be satisfied with current performance. We cannot afford to lose the opportunity represented by the Millennium Agenda to transform the lives of the most vulnerable children. The benefits of improved drinking water and sanitation are evident and could be extended to so many more of the world’s people, if only sufficient resources and resolve were dedicated to the task.

It is hard to think of a more potent reason to redouble our efforts than the thought of more than 1.5 million children every year who will not live to see their fifth birthday.

Ann M. Veneman
Executive Director, UNICEF