Unclean water and a lack of basic sanitation are undermining efforts to end extreme poverty and disease in the world's poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa faces some of the worst deficits- in 2010, 330 million people in the region lacked access to clean water and nearly 590 million lacked access to proper sanitation facilities. People living in rural areas continue to be disproportionately underserved, with only 23% of the rural population of sub-Saharan Africa having access to proper sanitation in 2010.
Together, unclean water and poor sanitation are a leading cause of child mortality: an estimated 2,000 children die daily from diarrhoeal diseases, which are spread through poor sanitation and hygiene. As with many challenges in development, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by scarcities of clean water and adequate sanitation. Women are more than twice as likely as men to be responsible for water collection. On average, women in the developing world walk six kilometres each day to collect water, time which could be spent in school or at work. And studies show that more than half of girls who drop out of primary school in sub-Saharan Africa do so because of a lack of separate toilets and easy access to safe water. The effects of lack of access to water and sanitation have a macroeconomic impact as well. In total, the World Health Organization estimates that 40 billion working hours are spent collecting water each year in Africa - comparable to a year's labour for the entire workforce of France.
As part of the Millennium Development Goals, developing countries and donor governments committed to halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. Earlier this year, the WHO and UNICEF reported that, as of 2010, the MDG target for safe drinking water has been met. While this is a welcome announcement and comes five years ahead of schedule, 780 million people across the globe still do not have to access to safe drinking water. In addition, the world is still far from achieving its target for basic sanitation. 2.5 billion people today do not have access to adequate sanitation.
The links between a lack of water and sanitation access and development goals are clear, and the solutions to the problem are known and cost-effective. Universal access to improved sanitation alone could reduce diarrhoea-related morbidity by more than one third. If the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets on water and sanitation are met, there will be 203,000 fewer child deaths in 2015 and 272 million school days would be gained with the subsequent reduction in diarrhoea. The benefits of improving access to water and sanitation go beyond any one sector. Meeting the water and sanitation MDG would have a total annual economic benefit of $22 billion for the continent. It is estimated that every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates returns of $4 in increased economic opportunity. If the MDG targets on water and sanitation are met by 2015, national governments in sub-Saharan Africa could save about 12% of annual public health expenditures.
Since 1990, more than 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources and 1.8 billion people gained access to improved sanitation. With 780 million people still without safe drinking water and the sanitation MDG still unmet, scale-up of efforts are needed to ensure safe water and sanitation for all. Specific areas that need to be addressed should include urban-rural disparities, poverty-related inequity, the burden on women and girls, and the still low coverage of safe drinking water and sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa.
New analysis published today from the ONE Campaign shows that 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have accelerated progress in the last three years on reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and 16 are on track to halve extreme poverty by 2015. But further momentum is at risk due to laggard countries where progress has stalled or gone into reverse, as governments across sub-Saharan Africa are set to fall short of their own development commitments by an estimated $243 billion by 2015.
2.5 billion people around the world
do not have access to adequate sanitation and 780 million do not have access to clean water.
Every $1 spent on water and sanitation
generates at least $4 returned in increased economic opportunity
2,000 children die each day
from severe diarrhoea, which is spread through poor sanitation and hygiene.