A new report says the world is in danger of missing targets for providing clean water and sanitation by 2015, the date set by the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. In a joint report, the World Health Organization and U.N. Children's Fund say urgent efforts and more money are needed to provide billions of people in developing countries with these life-saving and health-giving services.

People in developed countries take safe drinking water and good sanitation for granted. The picture in poor countries is quite different. The WHO/UNICEF report notes more than one billion people in urban and rural areas lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation.

WHO Assistant Director-General Susanne Weber-Mosdorf says the availability of good water and sanitation for people in developing countries can be a matter of life or death.

"Every year, approximately 1.6 million children under the age of five, die as a result of unsafe water and poor sanitation ...," she said. "These are deaths from largely preventable water-borne illness including diarrheal diseases."

The World Health Organization says the situation is becoming particularly acute in urban areas, where rapid population growth is putting great pressure on the provision of services and the health of poor people.

In 2000, the world pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The report shows the world is on track with respect to the water goal, but is failing to reach the goal of improved sanitation. It says a doubling of current efforts will be needed to meet the sanitation goals and a one-third increase in efforts will be needed to meet the drinking water target by 2015.

Weber-Mosdorf says Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of greatest concern.

"Currently, just 56 percent of the population there has access to an improved water supply," she said. "And, just 37 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to basic sanitation in 2004, compared to a global average of 59 percent."

The Author of the Report, Jose Weber, says the news out of Asia also is grim.

"In Southern Asia and Eastern Asia, rural sanitation coverage is only 28 percent," he said. "And, I am talking about regions that comprise China and India. And, actually, we are talking about 72 percent of the population that might be using unsanitary facilities, facilities that eventually might compromise health."

To coincide with the release of this report, Beijing has pledged to bring clean water to 300 million peasants within a decade. The Chinese government says it plans to invest about $5 billion during the next 10 years on safe water projects.

The World Health Organization estimates every dollar that is invested in improving water and sanitation will result in economic gains of between $3 and $34.