More than 2 billion people across the world still have no access to safe drinking water, while 4.2 billion go without safe sanitation services and three billion lack basic handwashing facilities, according to a new report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Significant gains have been achieved since the turn of the century, with 1.8 billion people getting access to basic drinking water services reachable by foot within 30 minutes since the year 2000, the U.N. progress report said. But some 2.2 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, which includes 785 million people who do not have a protected water source within a half hour distance, the report noted and 144 million people are drinking untreated surface water.
"Countries must double their efforts on sanitation or we will not reach universal access by 2030," said Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. "If countries fail to step up efforts on sanitation, safe water and hygiene, we will continue to live with diseases that should have been long ago been consigned to the history books," she spelled out. "Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways."
Many diseases, like diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, could be eliminated if clean drinking water and toilets with safe waste management were universally available, the WHO said. Intestinal worms and bacterial eye infections would also be reduced.
The report also noted that 4.2 billion people don't have access to toilets that safely dispose of waste, with 673 million of those still practicing open defecation. Only 9 per cent of people worldwide now defecate in open spaces – compared to 21 per cent in the year 2000. But in 39 countries, the number of people without toilets has actually gone up, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, where there has been significant population growth. In addition, 3 billion people are without basic hygiene services, the definition of which includes using a latrine that does not have to be shared with other households and having hand-washing facilities with soap and water in the home.