WHO/UNICEF Report: Limited Progress on Sanitation Threatens Gains from Improved Water Sources
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Lack of progress on sanitation threatens to undermine health and survival gains from access to improved drinking water sources, finds a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The report's findings underscore the importance of focusing on inequalities to ensure that the poorest make progress.

Unicef WHO30 June 2015: Lack of progress on sanitation threatens to undermine health and survival gains from access to improved drinking water sources, finds a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report’s findings underscore the importance of focusing on inequalities to ensure that the poorest make progress.

‘Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment’ reviews progress toward the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The world achieved the MDG target on access to improved drinking water sources, with 91% of the population now having access to improved sources, which has also contributed to substantial gains in child survival, the report recalls.

However, only 68% of the global population uses an improved sanitation facility, which is nine percentage points below the MDG target of 77%. This lack of access to adequate facilities undermines the quality of water supplies and threatens human health, particularly in rural and under-served areas, according to the report.

Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF, stressed the need to focus on inequalities as the path to progress. “The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away.”

Maria Neira, WHO, said the quality of water supplies will be undermined until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, and “too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases.”

As challenges to progress in sanitation, the report highlights: inadequate investments in behavior change campaigns; social norms that accept or encourage open defecation; and lack of affordable progress for the poor.

The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a target to eliminate open defecation by 2030, which would require doubling the current rates of reduction, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. To ensure that the SDGs achieve universal access to water and sanitation and close inequality gaps, WHO and UNICEF recommend: disaggregated data; a focus on the hardest to reach, particularly the poor in rural areas; innovative approaches and technologies to bring affordable, sustainable sanitation solutions to poor communities; and increased attention to improving hygiene in homes, schools and health care facilities.

The WHO/UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation produced the report. The JMP is the official UN System arrangement for monitoring progress on the MDGs related to water supply and sanitation. [UNICEF Press Release] [WHO Press Release] [UN Press Release] [Publication: Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment]

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