An alarming future for women and girls as access to water, sanitation and hygiene looks increasingly out of reach

July 6, 2023
Village: Zindapur, District: Gaya, State: Bihar, Country: India, 5th June 2018 18 year old Mamta Devi washes untensils as she fills water from a handpump outside her house  in Zindapur.  WaterAid India/2018/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Image: WaterAid/ Prashanth Vishwanathan

We are at the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the commitment countries made in 2015 to achieve access for everyone, everywhere by 2030. Despite some progress, that seems unlikely given today’s snapshot: 3.5 billion don’t have a safe toilet at home; 2.2 billion don’t have safe water; 2 billion don’t have soap and water to wash their hands at home.

The report highlights sizeable increases since the launch of the SDGs in the number of people who have access to soap and water for handwashing, safe and available drinking water, and safe toilets at home. The pace of progress, though, needs to be multiplied up to six-fold if we are to deliver safe clean water, sanitation and hygiene for all in the next seven years. In low-income countries the increase needed is even more dramatic – 20-fold for safe water, 21-fold for safe sanitation and 16-fold for everyone to have soap and water for handwashing at home.

For the 1.8 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to water at home the burden disproportionately affects women and girls. They are over twice as likely to be responsible for collecting water than men and boys and with half a billion people globally having to share sanitation facilities with other households, the privacy and dignity of women and girls is at risk.

Worryingly, the availability of data remains a concern, says WaterAid. Most noticeably, the state of access to water in households across two of the world’s most populous countries, India and China, remains an unknown, impacting on the ability to give an accurate global picture.

Amaka Godfrey, Global Policy and Research Director, WaterAid, said: 

“This report is a stark wake up call. At the halfway point to achieving clean water and sanitation for all, we should be seeing greater progress. The JMP data shows how seriously impacted women and girls are by the lack of water and sanitation at home meaning widespread action is moving too slowly. This will only get worse unless countries and donors massively increase their investment and support, particularly where progress is low and in areas most impacted by climate change. WaterAid has reached over 28 million people with clean water and 29 million with decent toilets but we can’t do it alone - without the necessary, targeted funding from governments, this will never be enough. With 2030 clearly on the horizon now, we cannot afford to wait.

“WaterAid is urgently calling on the UK and global governments to prioritize accelerated and increased funding for communities affected by the water and sanitation crisis – failure to act now means billions will remain without clean water and sanitation for years to come and put girls and women increasingly at risk.”


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Notes to Editors:


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organization works in 27 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and 29 million people with decent toilets.