The Human Impact

Safer water, sanitation could save 2.5 mln lives – WaterAid

April 16, 2012

The lives of 2.5 million people could be saved every year if governments committed to universal access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, charity WaterAid has said.

Citing the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO), WaterAid said in a report that boosting access to clean water and sanitation could save people by reducing deaths from diarrhoea, malnutrition and related diseases.

Although the global Millennium Development Goal (MDG 7) water target to reduce by half the proportion of people living without safe water by 2015 has now been met, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and Oceania are lagging behind, WaterAid said.

At current rates of progress, the MDG 7 sanitation target to reduce by half the proportion of people living without access to an improved toilet by 2015 will be missed by a huge margin, the report said, adding that there are now more people in the world without sanitation than there were in 1990.

“It is unacceptable that 37 percent of the world’s population live without a toilet,” said Barbara Frost, WaterAid Britain’s chief executive. “The need for action is overwhelming.”

The MDGs are a framework of global targets set in 2000 by the United Nations to be met by 2015 to try and alleviate poverty.

“The majority of developing countries are seriously off-track and, unless urgent action is taken now, Sub-Saharan Africa will not meet the target for over 150 years,” the report said.

“This lack of basic facilities to hygienically dispose of human faeces is the primary cause of diarrhoeal diseases, which kill thousands of children around the world every single day.”

The evidence shows that sanitation currently ranks among the most off-track MDG targets, according to the report.

At the current rate, the global MDG target on sanitation will not be met until 2026, in Southern Asia the target won’t be reached until 2030 and in Sub-Saharan Africa it will not be met until 2175.

If governments meet the MDG to halve the proportion of their population that lives without sanitation by 2015, the lives of 400,000 children under the age of five will be saved around the world – more than 100,000 in Nigeria alone, the report said.

WHO has calculated that poor quality sanitation and lack of access to safe drinking water causes 1.4 million child deaths every year due to diarrhoea, and that these deaths are preventable through basic improvements to water and sanitation supply, the report said.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, diarrhoea is now the single biggest killer of children under five, according to the report.

The release of the report titled “Saving Lives” has been timed to coincide with a meeting of the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership of developing country governments, donors and civil society organisations committed to accelerating progress towards universal access to safe water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Delegates at the meeting on Friday in Washington will be asking world leaders to not only keep their current commitments on sanitation, but also to support 57 countries currently most off-track on their MDG targets for sanitation.

Additional lives could be saved by increasing resources and improving the effectiveness of investments dedicated to achieving the water and sanitation MDGs, WaterAid said.

Picture Credit: Internally displaced women carry jerry-cans of water on their backs from a well in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu September 6, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Taxta

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