Basic sanitation must reach 138 million more people every year through 2015

Basic sanitation must reach 138 million more people every year through 2015 – close to 2 billion in total - to bring the world on track to halve the proportion of people living without safe water and basic sanitation, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF warn in a new report.

Meeting this Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target would cost $11.3 billion per year, a minimal investment compared with the potential to reduce human illnesses and death and invigorate economies.

Young children suffer disproportionately without safe water and sanitation services. Every year, 1.9 million children under five die from diarrhoeal diseases in the world’s poorest countries – over 5000 children each day. Poor water and sanitation contribute to almost 90 per cent of these deaths (1.6 million). A baby born in Sub-Saharan Africa is five hundred times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than a baby in the developed world. Diarrhoea can lead to severe malnutrition, which contributes to six million child deaths every year – more than half the global toll of child mortality.

"Access to basic sanitation and adequate drinking water makes people healthier and more economically and socially productive," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General. "Yet we are not seeing nearly enough money invested in this primary building block of development."

“While the world is on track to meet its safe water targets, progress on basic sanitation, in terms of the number of people who need to gain access to sanitation facilities each year for the first time, needs to accelerate by at least 58 per cent between now and 2015 to meet the Millennium target,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

Meeting the target by 2015 would inject an extra US$ 84 billion per year into developing economies – money saved by averted deaths, lower healthcare costs and productivity gains, says the new report, called Water for Life — Making it Happen, released ahead of World Environment Day on 5 June. The report analyzes essential investments and strategies to increase access to water and sanitation between now and the MDG deadline year of 2015.

The report finds that every dollar invested in improved water supplies and basic toilets pays for itself many times over. Returns range from $3 to $34, depending on the type of investment and the country. Less illness means less burden on health systems and more time spent at work or in school. Women and girls can have their lives transformed by better water and sanitation services. For example, an accessible water source liberates them from the hours often spent collecting water, and adequate school toilets make more likely that girls will attend classes.

The sanitation situation is particularly acute in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. South Asia needs to reach 42 million additional people with sanitation services every year to reach the target. In sub-Saharan Africa, where only 36 per cent of the population have access to a basic toilet, 27 million people every year need expanded services. So far, access to sanitation in the region has increased by just 4 per cent since 1990.

Investing in water and sanitation services is also a key element in improving urban living conditions, spurring rural development and reducing future costs associated with pollution, poor water quality and waste management. Planning to meet these major environmental challenges now is the best platform for prosperous and pleasant future living spaces, says Dr. Kerstin Leitner, WHO Assistant Director-General for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments.

"We must ensure that access to drinking water and sanitation becomes a master component in development planning,” she said. “Adequate water and sanitation infrastructure is the only means possible of supporting socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development of urban areas.”

The report recommends five key complementary actions to reach the water and sanitation MDG over the next ten years (the International Decade for Action on Water for Life): meeting basic sanitation demand; significantly increasing access to safe drinking water; teaching good hygiene in homes and schools; promoting household water treatment and safe storage; and ensuring more health for the money by providing water and sanitation systems together.

“Failure to meet these simple needs is costing many children their lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “An investment in safe water and sanitation for homes and schools can be a key factor in reducing child mortality.”

The 2005 Joint Monitoring report can be found on-line at


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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