In a startling report the WHO and UNICEF have warned that quarter of population in the world is still without proper sanitation facilities and this threatens and undermines the efforts and progress achieved through various initiatives and projects that are in place to boost child survival across the globe.
According to the recently published Joint Monitoring Programme report, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment, 1 in 3 people, or 2.4 billion, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open.
Owing to various initiative and programmes implemented by various international organisations in collaboration with local governments, people now have increased access to improved drinking water sources with some 2.6 billion people having gained access since 1990. According to latest statistics, 91 per cent of the global population now have improved drinking water with more and more people gaining access everyday.
Programmes to ensure that there are fewer under five deaths in the world have also shown progress with fewer than 1,000 children under five dying each day from diarrhoea caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene, compared to over 2,000 15 years ago.
However, all these gains have being endangered by lack of sanitation owing to inadequate investments in behaviour change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation.
Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the MDG target by nearly 700 million people. Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent.
Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes calls for increased focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress.
Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health believes that until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases.
Access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene is critical in the prevention and care of 16 of the 17 ‘neglected tropical diseases’ (NTDs), including trachoma, soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms) and schistosomiasis. NTDs affect more than 1.5 billion people in 149 countries, causing blindness, disfigurement, permanent disability and death.
The practice of open defecation is also linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage.
“To benefit human health it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas,” added Dr Neira.
Rural areas are home to 7 out of 10 people without access to improved sanitation and 9 out of 10 people who defecate in the open.
Plans for the new Sustainable Development Goals to be set by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 include a target to eliminate open defecation by 2030. This would require a doubling of current rates of reduction, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, WHO and UNICEF say.
WHO and UNICEF say it is vitally important to learn from the uneven progress of the 1990-2015 period to ensure that the SDGs close the inequality gaps and achieve universal access to water and sanitation.