Currently, approximately 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to basic sanitation services, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
On November 19, the UN released a report highlighting the gaps in water and sanitation progress. “Water and sanitation are essential to human health. Political commitment to ensure universal access to these vital services is at an all-time high,” said WHO Director of the Department of Public Health and the Environment, Dr Maria Neira. “International aid for the sector is on the rise. But we continue to see major financial gaps at the country level, particularly in rural areas.”
Ninety-four countries were surveyed in the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water report. Data revealed that over 80 percent of these countries have enacted national policies for drinking-water and sanitation, with over 75 percent enacting policies for hygiene as well. The report also recognized that international aid for improved water and sanitation conditions is increasing. Aid rose from $8.3 billion to $10.9 billion between 2010 and 2012- an increase of 30 percent. Most recent increases in international aid have been the result of strives toward the Millennium Development Goals.
However, WHO points out the major gaps in the MDGs. Approximately 748 million people lack access to clean drinking water sources while a billion people have no sanitary system in place and are forced to practice open defecation.
Still today, hundreds of millions of people lack clean water and soap to wash their hands. This leads to transmission of diarrhoeal disease which is the second largest killer of children under five. Lack of clean water can cause many other water-borne diseases as well, including cholera, typhoid and hepatitis while poor sanitation can cause debilitating diseases like blinding trachoma, intestinal worms and schistosomiasis.
WHO reports that the key obstacles which inhibit progress to water and sanitation development include insufficient funding and weak national capabilities to carry out water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) initiatives. While statistics show that international aid is increasing, 80 percent of countries have declared that their current financial resources are too low to meet WASH targets.
The funding gap is even more extreme in rural areas which represent the majority of people in need of sanitation and water systems. According to the new report, less than 10 percent of WASH financing goes to improvement in rural areas. Additionally, the report cites challenges in implementing WASH programs in national institutions like schools and health facilities. Fewer than 30 percent of surveyed countries have institutional WASH plans that are being fully carried out, funded and reviewed.
Despite these obstacles to WASH and Millennium Development Goals, many are still hopeful that countries will get back on track to achieving their targets.
“Now is the time to act,” says Michel Jarraud, Chair of UN-Water and Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. “We may not know yet what the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will look like. But we do know that water and sanitation must be clear priorities if we are to create a future that allows everyone to live healthy, prosperous and dignified lives.”
– Meagan Douches