Last week, the WHO and UNICEF gave us what finally looked like a good news story. They released a report which showed that we are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal on water—to halve the proportion of people without access to safe water by 2015.
But everything is not as rosy as it seems. While the global goal for water may well be met by 2015, many of the world’s poorest countries won’t have even reached this goal by 2050—unless efforts are scaled up. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular is a long way from clean water for all.
Perhaps even more worrying is that we are seriously off-track on the sanitation target—to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015. Globally, 2.6 billion people are still without a safe place to go to the bathroom. The resulting diseases kill 4,000 children every day—more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
At current rates, the MDG goal on sanitation won’t be met in sub-Saharan Africa for another 200 years. This gives sanitation the dubious honor of being the second most off-track MDG in the region, with only maternal mortality lagging behind.
Not only that, but the water and sanitation crises are also holding back improvements across lots of other areas—including education and maternal and child health. The lack of progress in water and sanitation is not only affecting human development, but also, crucially, economic growth. Why, then, do we hardly ever hear about it? There seems to be no political currency in championing toilets. Sanitation is literally a dirty word.
To prevent other development efforts from being undermined, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to take firm action and help reverse the global water and sanitation crisis. Ministers from developed and developing countries have the chance to do just that on April 23, as the first ever high-level meeting on water and sanitation takes place in Washington, DC.
The meeting will see the creation of a new global partnership to accelerate progress on water and sanitation—a global framework for action called ‘Sanitation and Water for All,’ similar to Education for All.
With the UN MDG Review Summit then in September, there is no better time for leaders, NGOs and the campaigning public to finally tackle this dirty issue.
-Mandy Folse, Head of Policy and Advocacy, WaterAid