Water and toilet access on the rise, but 1 in 4 people still live without basic toilets

on
3 July 2019

New data reveals that 2.1 billion people gained access to a decent toilet and 1.8 billion people gained access to basic water access between 2000 and 2017.

Despite this progress, the world is still not on track to have reached universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services by 2030, as outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Over 2 billion people still do not have access to even basic sanitation according to data released from the WHO and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP). This is equivalent to 26% of the world’s population or 1 in 4 people not having access to a toilet that is private, built in a way that will keep contents separate from water sources, and within a household. These statistics highlight how vast in scale the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) crisis still is.

With just over a decade to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and bring clean water and good sanitation to everyone, the rate of progress is still far too slow. The target level of provision set by SDG6 is of “safely managed sanitation” – so providing everyone with a toilet that is linked to a system of safe waste disposal. Without a dramatic progress shift, universal access will not be achieved for decades and will undermine the progress of virtually every other SDG.   

The global figures on access to water are better but still worrying, with 785 million people (10%) still lacking access to even a basic water service. This is an improvement on the 844 million people who lacked access in 2015, the last time this data was collected. However, basic access falls below the ambition of SDG6 of everyone having access to a safely managed water supply which demands that everyone has a household service that is reliable and tested to be safe. Over a quarter of people (29%) do not have access to a safely managed supply, putting them at risk of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. Rates of progress are currently too slow to reach even basic access and we are even further away from meeting the SDG6 ambition.  

The data also points to the huge inequalities that exist within countries, with the starkest differences seen with access to sanitation services. In Namibia, just 4% of the poorest people had basic access to toilets, compared to 87% of the richest people. Angola had the biggest gap between rich (94%) and poor (17%) basic access to water. The poorest and most marginalised people are still being left behind and denied these basic human rights. Until we can close these vast gaps in access, achieving SDG6 is impossible.  

For the first time, global estimates on hygiene were included in the data set. Around the world, 3 billion people (40%) lacked basic handwashing facilities that have soap and water.  The greatest hygiene inequality exists in Pakistan with a gap of 77% between the richest and poorest people’s access to handwashing facilities with soap and water.  

The top three countries with the least access to water, sanitation and hygiene were African nations. Chad had the highest proportion of people without access to at least a basic water service (61%) and Ethiopia had the highest proportion without basic sanitation (93%). Nearly all (99%) people in Liberia do not have access to basic hygiene facilities. Worryingly, the sanitation situation in Chad and other countries including Gambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has declined since 2015. Lack of financing and capacity continues to be a major blockage to improvements that could drastically change the lives of millions of people in these and many other countries.  

The data, which was collected in 2017, also found that:  

  • 8 out of 10 people who lack a basic water service lived in rural areas.  
  • Only 1 in 3 countries with less than 99% access to a basic water service were on track to achieve ‘nearly universal’ coverage by 2030. 
  • Between 2000 and 2017 the population practising open defecation halved from 1.3 billion to 673 million. The greatest decrease was seen in Central and Southern Asia. 
  • 1 in 4 countries with less than 99% access to basic sanitation services were on track to achieve ‘nearly universal’ coverage by 2030.  

See below for statistics pertaining to the countries where WaterAid Australia works:

Papua New Guinea

  • Water supply
    • Papua New Guinea has the 7th lowest access to safely managed and basic water supply in the world.
    • There are significant inequalities between people living in rural and urban areas. 87% of people live in rural areas, however only 35% of the rural population have “basic” water supply.  For the urban population, 86% of people have at least basic water supply.
    • There are still over 4.2 million Papua New Guineans that rely on surface water as their primary source of drinking water.
    • Progress toward water supply improvement is stagnant with an annual rate of change of 0%.
  • Sanitation
    • Only 8% of the rural population access at least basic sanitation compared to 48% for urban.
    • The proportion of households with access to at least basic sanitation is going backwards at a rate of -0.47% annually. There is an increase in the proportion of households with unimproved toilets and nationally open defecation is increasing by 0.07% annually (driven by population growth).
    • Nationally, there are over 1.15 million people that defecate in the open.
  • Hygiene
    • There are still no national data sets for hygiene, however our recent baseline in Wewak shows that less than 1% of households have a handwashing facility near their toilet.

Cambodia

  • Water
    • 79% of the population now have access to at least basic drinking water (increasing at a rate of 2% annually). There is still inequality between rural and urban: 73% of the rural population have access to at least basic water. In urban areas, this is 97%.
    • Cambodia is one of only a few countries in Asia with estimates for safely managed drinking water. 26% of the population have access to safely managed water (accessible on premises, available when needed, free from contamination)
    • 60% of the poorest wealth quintile have access to basic water, as opposed to 96% of the richest wealth quintile.
  • Sanitation
    • 59% of the population has access to at least basic sanitation. There is a significant difference between rural (48%) and urban (96%) areas.
    • 32% of the population defecate in the open (compared to 85% in 2000). OD is decreasing at 3.11% annually.
    • 15% of the poorest wealth quintile have access to basic sanitation, as opposed to 92% of the richest wealth quintile.
    • Cambodia is on track to end open defecation by 2030.
  • Hygiene
    • 66% of the population have basic handwashing facility available at the premises (with soap and water).
    • 39% of the poorest wealth quintile have access to basic hygiene, as opposed to 82% of the richest wealth quintile.

Timor-Leste

  • Water
    • 78% of the population now have access to at least basic drinking water (70% in rural areas; 98% in urban areas).
    • With 70% of people living in rural areas there are still 272,000 people in rural areas that access surface water, unimproved water sources or limited water sources. (A water source is considered 'improved' if a round trip to collect water takes less than 30 minutes, including queuing)
    • Timor-Leste is one track to achieve at least basic water by 2030. This is an improvement on the most recent projections, which classified Timor-Leste as 'off track'.
  • Sanitation
    • 54% of the population have at least basic sanitation. There is a significant difference between rural areas (44%) and urban areas (76%).
    • 20% of the population defecate in the open.
    • No data is available on the annual rate of change.
    • Timor-Leste is on track to end open defecation by 2030. This is an improvement on the most recent projections, which classified Timor-Leste as 'off track'.
  • Hygiene
    • Only 28% of the population have basic handwashing facility available at the premises (with soap and water).