Billions of people lack safe drinking water, sanitation — WHO

Lake Chad [Photo Credit: World Water Database]

About 2.1 billion people across the world lack access to safe, readily available water at home and 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation.

These include millions of Nigerians, says a new report by World Health Organisation, WHO, and United Nation Children’s Funds, UNICEF.

A statement by the international health agency on Wednesday said three in 10 people worldwide lack access to safe water and six in 10 lack safe sanitation.

Safely managed drinking water and sanitation services mean drinking water free of contamination at home and having toilets to treat and safely dispose of excreta.

The report, titled Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and Sustainable Development Goal Baseline, is the outcome of a Joint Monitoring Programme, JMP of both organisations.

It presented the first global assessment of “safely managed” drinking water and sanitation services with the overriding conclusion that too many people still lack access, particularly in rural areas.

Many Nigerians fall into one or both categories of those lacking access to safe, available water in their homes and safe sanitation.

Statistics from WaterAid Nigeria shows that 57 million people in the country do not have access to safe water, while two-thirds of the Nigerian population, or 130 million people, do not have access to adequate sanitation thereby causing the death of almost 60,000 children under the age of five from diarrhoea, a disease caused by poor sanitation and water.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home should not be a privilege of only those who are rich or live in urban centres, but are some of the most basic requirements for human health that countries have a responsibility to ensure.

He said billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and sanitation services since 2000, but these services do not necessarily provide safe water and sanitation.

Many homes, healthcare facilities and schools also still lack soap and water for hand washing and this puts the health of people, especially young children, at risk from diseases such as diarrhoea.

“As a result, every year, 361,000 children under five years of age die due to diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and contaminated water are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid,” he added.

The UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, also said safe water, effective sanitation and hygiene are critical to the health of every child and every community – and thus are essential to building stronger, healthier, and more equitable societies.

“As we improve these services in the most disadvantaged communities and for the most disadvantaged children today, we give them a fairer chance at a better tomorrow,” said Mr. Lake.

The agencies thus called for more efforts in decreasing the global inequalities as the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for ending open defecation and achieving universal access to basic services by 2030.

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According to the statement, of the 2.1 billion people who do not have safely managed water, 844 million do not have even a basic drinking water service.

These include 263 million people who have to spend over 30 minutes per trip collecting water from sources outside the home, and 159 million who still drink untreated water from surface water sources, such as streams or lakes.

The report states that in 90 countries, progress towards basic sanitation is too slow, meaning they will not reach universal coverage 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. These include 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. Due to population growth, open defecation is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.

Nigeria has been noted as one of the countries where people still defecate in the open. People defecate openly on refuse dumps, fields, bushes and drainages among others even in the urban centres.

UNICEF in a separate event in Nigeria stated that 25 percent or 46 million Nigerians defecate openly, while 33 million of these people are in the rural area.

Nawshad Ahmed, Programme and Planning Specialist, UNICEF, Abuja, during the 2017 Niger State UNICEF mid-year review, noted that open defecation was higher in the northern part of the country than the southern part.

Mr. Ahmed also said one out of every three Nigerians did not have access to safe drinking water, adding that the rate surpassed 80 per cent in some southern states and less than 35 per cent in some northern states.

According to WHO and UNICEF, good hygiene is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease.

“For the first time, the SDGs are monitoring the percentage of people who have facilities to wash their hands at home with soap and water.”

According to the new report, access to water and soap for handwashing varies immensely in the 70 countries with available data, from 15 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa to 76 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa, it stated.

Additional key finding from the report noted that many countries lack data on the quality of water and sanitation services.


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