New York City, June 30: United Nations agencies tracking access to water and sanitation targets against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) warned today that the lack of progress on sanitation threatens to undermine the child survival and health benefits from gains in access to safe drinking water.
According to the Joint Monitoring Programme report, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment, released today by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every three, or 2.4 billion people on the planet, are still without sanitation facilities including 946 million people who defecate in the open.
“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,” Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health said in a joint press release.
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.
And the practice of open defecation is linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage, according to WHO.
Plans for the proposed new sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be set by the UN 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.
Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF's global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, said what the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress.”
In other words, “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,” Mr. Wijesekera said.