Many millennia of missed opportunity and prosperity as nations around the world are collectively 5,000 years off track to bring clean water and 11,000 for decent toilets, reveals WaterAid

10 July 2018
Water, Toilets
Image: WaterAid/Eliza Powell

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Many millennia of missed opportunity and prosperity as nations around the world are collectively 5,000 years off track to bring clean water and 11,000 for decent toilets, reveals WaterAid.

One child dies every two minutes from diarrhoea caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and bad hygiene – yet on current progress, the world will fail to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 pledge to bring safe water and toilets to everyone, everywhere by 2030. 

WaterAid has used United Nations data to predict when each country will complete the job of providing everyone with clean water close to home and a decent toilet – shockingly a significant number of people in 80 countries will still be drinking hazardous water in 2030 and in 107 countries will still not have a decent toilet to use. It is not possible to calculate when many countries will reach the more exacting standard of 'safe' water set by SDG6.

Collectively the number of years by which nations around the world will fail to provide citizens with the human right of clean water comes to a staggering 5337 years in total. That is the length of time that separates us from the start of the Bronze Age. There are also countries in which the percentage of the population with clean water is actually dropping due to a variety of factors including climate change, population growth and urbanisation.

For sanitation the picture is even worse, with the collective total of years missed at over 11,000 – a thousand years longer than has passed since the last mammoth walked the earth.

Each year that a nation is not able to provide clean water and decent toilets to its entire population is one year in which citizens are denied better health and greater prosperity that having access to clean water brings. 

From 6-19 July, world leaders come together at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), to review the progress that has been made on Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6). To mark the start of ministerial discussions on progress, WaterAid is holding a morning procession of women walking for water in New York, representing women and girls in developing countries who spend hours every day collecting water, often from unsafe sources.

Some countries would, at current rates, provide their entire populations with a decent basic toilet only over a millennium after 2030. Others are centuries away from fulfilling their promise to provide universal access to even a basic water service within half an hour’s trip from home:  

  • Nicaragua would not provide even basic water access for its entire population until 2180; 

  • Namibia wouldn’t until 2246; 

  • Eritreans would have to wait until 2507.

  • For everyone to have a decent toilet in Romania would take more than 500 years on current form, island nation Vanuatu would complete universal basic sanitation by 3469, and Ghana would wait until 2468

Across the world 844 million people still do not have access to clean water close to home which equates to one in nine and 2.3 billion – or 1 in 3 – people still live without adequate sanitation facilities. Without water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, other Sustainable Development Goals, including those on eradicating poverty, gender equality, education, health, reducing inequalities and nutrition, cannot be achieved.   

WaterAid calls on governments, donors, financial institutions and the private sector to:

  • prioritise financing for water and sanitation; and

  • to integrate the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene into strategies for education, health and nutrition. 

For every US$1 spent on water and sanitation, on average $4 is returned in economic benefits, according to World Bank estimates.

WaterAid's Chief Executive, Tim Wainwright, said:

"For the nations collectively to be thousands of years off track in meeting these human rights is shocking. The meeting of ministers at HLPF must result in more than just warm words of encouragement because we have only 12 years left to keep the promise made to those living without clean water or a decent toilet. Governments must prioritise water, sanitation and hygiene – the basic building blocks of any stable and prosperous community – ensuring proper financing is put in place to build a more sustainable country today and for future generations.

"We are at a critical juncture in the fight to get clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene to every person around the world, so that we can help end the scourge of extreme poverty and create a more sustainable future for all. 

"Every day that someone lives without being able to drink clean water, use a toilet that doesn’t pollute their community or wash their hands is a day when their human rights are breached, their futures limited and children put as risk of fatal waterborne diseases."


Notes to Editors

Using United Nations JMP data on progress made on providing clean water and a decent toilet between 2000 and 2015 and the numbers of people still waiting to receive these services as listed on, WaterAid has calculated the projected completion date for each country that currently has less than 95% access. 

For more information, please contact:
In London: Yola Verbruggen, Senior Media Officer, [email protected] +44 (0)207 793 4909 or Fiona Callister, Global Head of Media, WaterAid on +44 7785 725387 or 020 7793 5022 before 12th July and on (001) 917 428 9702 from 12th July onwards.

In the US: Emily Haile, Senior Communications and Media Manager, [email protected]

In Delhi: Pragya Gupta, Media and Communications Coordinator, [email protected] 

In Melbourne: Kirrily Johns, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +61 3 9001 8248

In Ottawa: Pam Medjesi, Media Coordinator, [email protected] or +1 (613) 230-5182.

In Stockholm: Magdalena Olsson, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 33 or +46 (0)73 661 93 31, or Petter Gustafsson, Communications Officer, on [email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 21 or +46 (0)72 858 58 51

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected] .

Notes to Editors:
1.    The completion dates are based on current access figures to water and sanitation and progress made in increasing access between 2000 and 2015. 
2.    For further information on the Water Procession please see media advisory HERE>


WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at

  • 844 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home.[1]

  • 2.3 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]

  • Around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]

  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]

  • Just £24 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database


[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines


[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage