News / Health

WHO, UNICEF Say Global Access to Safe Drinking Water Increasing

Lisa Schlein

This is a good news, bad news story.  On the good news side, the report from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund, says the world is on track to meet or even exceed the drinking-water target of the Millennium Development Goals, which aims to cut in half the number of people who do not have access to good water.

The report notes 87 percent of the world's population or approximately 5.9 billion people are using safe drinking-water sources.  But, the situation regarding sanitation is not as good.

Chief of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for the U.N. Children's Fund, Clarissa Brocklehurst, says a staggering 2.6 billion people do not use improved sanitation.

"We also see that there are some major disparities," she said. "Despite the good news on water supply, we see that rural areas are being badly left behind.  Of the 884 million people without access to improved water supplies, 84 percent of those are in rural areas…We also see that there are regional disparities.  Sub-Saharan Africa is being left behind.  Sanitation coverage there is only 31 percent and water is only 60 percent.  It is the region with the lowest coverage for water supply. The global water coverage is 87 percent."  

The report says unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene are behind the spread of two of the biggest child killers in the world, pneumonia and diarrhea.

Every year, it says 1.5 million children under age five die of diarrhea.  And, 80 percent of those deaths, or 4,000 deaths a day, are due to unsafe water and sanitation.

WHO and UNICEF say lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene affects the health, security, livelihood and quality of life for children.  They say women and girls are more affected than are men and boys.  That is because they are the ones burdened with collecting drinking water.  

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