The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has been met, according to a report published by UNICEF and WHO in March 2012. Between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources such as piped supplies and protected wells.
The report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012, is published by the Word Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. It says that at the end of 2010, 89 per cent of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources. This is one per cent more than the 88 per cent MDG target. The report estimates that by 2015, 92 per cent of the global population will have access to improved drinking water.
The report highlights, however, that the world is still far from meeting the MDG target for sanitation, and is unlikely to do so by 2015.
The goal, to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation”, is a component of MDG 7: “Ensure environmental sustainability”. MDG 7 has four separate sub-goals.
UNICEF and WHO also cautioned that since the measurement of water quality is not possible globally, progress towards the MDG target of safe drinking water is measured through gathering data on the use of improved drinking water sources. Significant work must be done to ensure that improved sources of water are and remain safe.
Challenges in rural areas remain
In many countries, the wealthiest people have seen the greatest improvement in water and sanitation access, while the poorest still lag far behind. The report provides the latest update on rural areas across the globe, highlighting the need for greater attention to both water and sanitation. In rural areas in least developed countries, 97 out of every 100 people do not have piped water and 14 per cent of the population drink surface water – for example, from rivers, ponds, or lakes.
Of 1.1 billion people who still practice open defecation, the vast majority (949 million) live in rural areas. This affects even regions with high levels of improved water access. For instance, 17 per cent of rural dwellers in Latin America and the Caribbean and 9 per cent in Northern Africa still resort to open defecation. Even the so-called BRIC countries, with rapidly growing economies, have large numbers of people who practice open defecation: 626 million in India, 14 million in China, and 7.2 million in Brazil.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the least access to water
The report highlights the immense challenges that remain. Global figures mask massive disparities between regions and countries, and within countries. Only 61 per cent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to improved water supply sources compared with 90 per cent or more in Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern Africa, and large parts of Asia. Over 40 per cent of all people globally who lack access to drinking water live in sub-Saharan Africa.