Safe drinking water access improving globally, says WHO

NEW YORK, NY, March 16, 2010 -- Over a third of the world's population (over 2.6 billion) are still living without improved sanitation facilities, according to a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO)...

NEW YORK, NY, March 16, 2010 -- Over a third of the world's population are still living without improved sanitation facilities, according to a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Latest figures suggest that 87% of the world's population (5.9 billion) are now using "safe drinking water sources" but almost 39% of the world’s population (over 2.6 billion people) are lacking improved sanitation facilities.

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water –2010 Update did however show that the world is on track to meet, or even exceed, the drinking water target set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Other news included statistics that showed open defecation is on the decline worldwide, with a global decrease from 25% in 1990 to 17% in 2008, representing a decrease of 168 million people practicing open defecation since 1990.

WHO said that this practice is still widely spread in Southern Asia, where an estimated 44% of the population defecate in the open.

Dr Tessa Wardlaw, chief of statistics and monitoring at UNICEF, said: "We need to not only focus on reaching the water and sanitation MDG targets but also on achieving them with equity, ensuring that the most vulnerable groups and those hard to reach share in the successes achieved elsewhere."

Dr Maria Neira, director for the Department of Public Health and Environment at WHO, said: "We all recognise the vital importance of water and sanitation to human health and well-being and their role as an engine of development. The question now lies in how to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDG targets and most importantly how to leap a step further to ultimately achieve the vision of universal access."

The WHO/UNICEF report includes information from household surveys and censuses completed during the period 1985–2008. Nearly 300 datasets were said to be added to the global database for this year’s report.

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