Nearly Half the World Lacks Access to Clean Water and Sanitation—and That’s the Good News

A new report from the World Health Organization shows slow progress despite billions in international aid.

(Photo: Gates Foundation/Flickr)

Nov 20, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Quick, name two things you take for granted nearly every day. Did access to clean water and working sewer lines pop into your head?

If they didn’t, here’s something that might help you remember—more than 2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to basic sanitation services, and around 748 men, women, and children don’t have clean water on tap.

That’s according to the latest report from the United Nations World Health Organization, which found that while access to sanitation and clean water is improving, major gaps remain in developing countries.

Called the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water, the report surveyed 94 countries to analyze the world’s strengths and weaknesses in regard to water, sanitation, and hygiene. The semiannual report was released on Nov. 19.

Open defecation field in front of a tent community in Allahabad, India. (Photo: Flickr)

“Water and sanitation are essential to human health,” Maria Neira, director of the WHO Public Health and the Environment Department, said in a statement. “Political commitment to ensure universal access to these vital services is at an all-time high.”

According to the report, 80 percent of the countries surveyed have national policies in place to improve drinking water and sanitation.

Here’s what the report has to say about water and sanitation in 2014:

· International aid for water and sanitation improvements is on the rise. Financial commitments increased by 30 percent—from $8.3 billion in 2012 to $10.9 billion this year. Despite these gains, 2.5 billion men, women, and children around the world still lack access to basic sanitation services.

Educational wall painting promoting cleaner defecation practices in Nepal sponsored by WASH Alliance. (Photo: Flickr)

· About 1 billion people continue to practice open defecation. That, along with poor hygiene options can lead to debilitating diseases that can spread rapidly across the developing world, like intestinal worms, blinding trachoma and schistosomiasis. Still, that’s an improvement from 1990, when 1.3 billion people had no access to sanitary toilets.

Young man digging a toilet pit in Nepal. (Photo: WASH Alliance/Flickr)

· 748 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. And hundreds of millions more live without clean water and soap to wash their hands, facilitating the spread of diarrhea, the second leading cause of death among children under five.

· International investments in water and sanitation improvements pay off. How so? There’s a big return on investment for each dollar spent on human health and development. WHO estimates that for every dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is a $4.30 return in reduced health care costs.

· Two-thirds of the 94 countries surveyed recognized drinking water and sanitation as a universal human right in national legislation.