The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) has estimated that more than 748 million people still lack ready access to improved sources of drinking water, and more than one third of the global population – some 2.5 billion people – do not use an improved sanitation facility, with over one billion people defecating in plastic bags or in the open.
It is important to keep in mind that these numbers underestimate the true scale of the problem, since crucial aspects like drinking water quality, continuous availability, distance to facilities, among others, is currently not measured. This often means that facilities are measured as ‘improved sources of drinking water’ – while in reality – they for example deliver water of bad quality on an unreliable basis. Also, the numbers showing increased access over the years do not take into account the number of facilities that have deteriorated and are broken in the meanwhile because of a lack of proper maintenance.
The 2014 JMP report highlights stark disparities across regions, between urban and rural areas, and between the rich and the poor and marginalized. The vast majority of those without sanitation are poorer people living in rural areas. Progress on sanitation has often increased inequality by primarily benefitting wealthier people. Although progress represents important gains in access for billions of people around the world, it has been uneven. Great geographic, socio-cultural and economic inequalities in access persist and sometimes have increased.
748 million people – mostly the poor and marginalized – still lack access to an improved drinking water source. Of these, almost a quarter (173 million) rely on untreated surface water, and over 90% live in rural areas. However, according to more detailed monitoring, 1.8 billion people actually use water that is contaminated with faeces, and much of this water stems from sources that are classified as ‘improved’. Further evidence on inadequate water services pertains to inequalities and sustainability. The world does not currently know how many people in fact live without access to water.
2.5 billion people did not have access to an improved sanitation facility; 1 billion people defecate in the open. Among other aspects, the actual use and sustainability of sanitation facilities is not currently being monitored, so that the real scope of the problem is unknown.
Statistics on interrelated rights and economic effects
As indicated by the Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque, developed countries only advanced in life expectancy and accompanied economic growth after governments began making substantial investments in the supply of water and sanitation. Investing in water and sanitation particularly leads to great health improvements because of a decrease in diarrhoea and savings in treatment of illnesses caused by a lack of access to water and sanitation.
Household connections have positive impacts on reducing child mortality as has been shown by a study carried out in Argentina: Here, increased household connections reduced child mortality in the poorest municipalities by 24 per cent.
Source: UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Financing for the realisation of the rights to water and sanitation, A/66/255, 2011
The economic benefits of improved access to water and sanitation do not only include a reduction of health costs, but also increased productivity of adults and children, including higher school attendance rates. The World Health Organisation estimates that the global economic return on sanitation spending is US$ 5.5 per US dollar invested. The global economic return on water spending is US$ 2.0 per US dollar invested.
Source: WHO, Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach MDG target and universal coverage, WHO/HSE/WSH/12.01, 2012.