WHO and UNICEF release first global estimates for water, sanitation and hygiene for the SDGs – expert comment

One billion people lack safe drinking water at home and more than twice as many lack safe sanitation, according to a new report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Image: Water point in Indian slum

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Baselines, presents the first global assessment of ‘safely managed’ drinking water and sanitation services. It concludes that too many people still lack access, particularly in rural areas - some three in ten people worldwide, or 2.1 billion, lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and six in ten, or 4.5 billion, lack safely managed sanitation.

Significant inequalities persist in order to decrease global inequalities, the new SDGs call for ending open defecation and achieving universal access to basic services by 2030. Of the 4.5 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation, 2.3 billion still do not have basic sanitation services. This includes 600 million people who share a toilet or latrine with other households, and 892 million people – mostly in rural areas – who defecate in the open.

What health issues can bad sanitation lead to? And is the SDG for ending open defecation achievable? Professor Val Curtis, Head of the WASH group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“The world has set itself an ambitious goal of ending the scandal of open defecation by 2030. This new report shows we still have a long way to go. Lack of sanitation is not just bad for child health and a cause of cholera and other epidemic diseases, it also has a more insidious effect. It is becoming clear that children living in faecally contaminated environments fail to grow properly, and this leads to stunting of their cognitive and intellectual development. This only helps to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment.

“We know how to tackle the problem of water, sanitation and hygiene globally, but all governments need to take up the challenge of ending WASH poverty now.”