Women and children drawing water from a borehole at Mzingo Village, Malawi.
Photo: ©FAO / Amos Gumulira

Major disparities in access to water

More investment in water supply and sanitation in rural areas is needed, according to a report by the World Bank. There are major disparities in water supply and sanitation services between rural and urban, poor and non-poor areas.

Seventy-five per cent of people who lack improved sanitation live in rural areas, and only 20 per cent of rural inhabitants have access to improved water, according to a World Bank report launched at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 2017. The report is based on data from 18 countries around the world.

In the countries analysed, three out of four people who lack improved sanitation and four out of five people who don’t have improved water live in rural areas.  Of the estimated 2.4 billion people in these 18 economies, 1.5 billion (63 per cent) are inhabitants of rural areas.  The poor are disproportionately affected by this lag: approximately 74 per cent live in rural areas.

In Niger, for example, the rate of access to improved water in in urban areas stands near 100 per cent, while in rural parts of the same country only two per cent of people have access to improved sanitation.  Whereas those living in cities saw their access to improved water increase by 39 percentage points between 1990 and 2015, open defecation increased in poor rural areas.

These figures appear all the more dramatic considering that 75 per cent of residents live in rural areas, as do 90 per cent of the poor, who are largely concentrated along the country’s southern border.

In Nigeria, over 60 per cent of the rural population live more than 30 minutes away from a working water source. And in Ecuador, where 24 per cent of the rural population drink contaminated water, 21 per cent of children are stunted, and 18 per cent are underweight.

Reaching the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030 will require countries to spend USD 150 billion per year, according to the report.   A fourfold increase in water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) investments compared to what is spent today is out of reach for many countries, threatening progress in poverty eradication.

More information on the report Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals


(The World Bank/ile)