Safe water and sanitation access would save lives

17 April 2012

New WaterAid report says 2.5 million lives would be saved every year.

The report, Saving lives, (PDF) also says that if governments meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve the proportion of the world’s population without sanitation by 2015 the lives of 400,000 children under the age of five will be saved around the world – over 100,000 in Nigeria alone.

David Winder, CEO of WaterAid America said, "This report shows crucially that if governments committed to universal access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation they could save 2.5 million lives every year."

"We all profess to care about the world’s children. Governments could save the lives of 400,000 of them by meeting their international commitment to invest in sanitation and to fully achieve this MDG target. The need for action is overwhelming and the current situation where 37% of the world’s population still live without a toilet is unacceptable," Winder noted.

The report comes as 70 ministers from governments around the world prepare to attend the Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting on April 20, 2012 in Washington DC.

Dr. Winder added: "We now have an opportunity to do something about the current situation. This week there is a critical meeting in Washington where real progress on improving sanitation and water can be made. Progress on both fronts is essential to saving children's lives and to delivering social and economic development.

The WaterAid report concludes "there are more people in the world today without sanitation than there were in 1990", and "the poor quality of sanitation and lack of access to safe drinking water causes 1.4 million child deaths every year, due to diarrhea, and that these deaths are preventable".

Diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water and a lack of adequate sanitation is the biggest killer of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa, and the second biggest killer of children worldwide.

The WaterAid report identifies, country by country, just how many children could be saved by getting back on track by the 2015 completion date of the MDG targets on access to clean water and sanitation. It shows that in Nigeria over 100,000 children under the age of five could be saved while India could save the lives of over 66,000 children under the age of five.

In Nigeria, for example, the proportion of people with access to sanitation is actually falling and on current trends it may never reach the MDG target, while in India the current rate of progress suggests that they will meet the MDG target by 2041, 26 years too late.

The report also predicts that, at the current rate the global MDG target on sanitation will not be met until 2026, 11 years late. In the Southern Asia region the target on sanitation won't be reached until 2030, 15 years late and sub-Saharan Africa until 2175, 160 years late.

The Sanitation and Water for All meeting in Washington on April 20 will bring together 70 ministers from over 60 countries to discuss the water and sanitation crisis. Participating governments have to bring pledges to the table on increasing access to water and sanitation for the next two years; donor governments also have to provide commitments ahead of the meeting.

The meeting is part of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings and brings together governments, NGOs, the private sector and civil society.

  1. The Saving Lives: sanitation and water for all would save 2.5 million lives every year report (PDF)
  2. A table with 53 of the 57 sanitation MDG target off track countries that includes the current sanitation coverage levels, the expected date due to meet the MDG target on sanitation and the number of children whose lives could be saved.
  3. Access to water has proved uneven. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost nine out of 10 of the richest population use improved water sources, while only 35% of the poorest do. In the 50 poorest (least developed countries - LDCs), much of the population has not benefited from investment in drinking water. Coverage globally stands at 89%, but it is only 63% in LDCs.
  4. 11% of the world’s population still lack access to water today and by 2015 that will be 8%. At this rate it will be 2027 before everyone has access to this essential service (universal access to water). 37% of the world's population still lack access to sanitation and by 2015 that will be 33%. Sub-Saharan Africa on current trends is not likely to have universal access to sanitation for another 350 years (2360).
  5. The Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership is the key global inter-governmental partnership that brings developing and donor countries together to tackle the water and sanitation crisis. The SWA High Level Meeting will take place in Washington DC on April 20, 2012. The High Level Meeting is part of the official World Bank / IMF Spring Meeting program. More information about the Sanitation and Water for All partnership.