Is the world forgetting about sanitation?

Water, water everywhere…but not enough that’s clean, says a new WHO and UNICEF report released this week.

As part of the Millennium Development Goals, the world aimed to halve by 2015 the population without access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation.

The good news is that we met the drinking water goal back in 2010. But, with less than one thousand days to go until the deadline, the report warns the global community that it is not on track to meet the sanitation target by over half a billion people. It projects that in all, 2.4 billion people – one-third of the world’s population – will be without access to basic sanitation in 2015.

What does that number mean? Well, it’s over twice the population of Africa, nearly three times that of Europe, and about half that of Asia. In short, it’s a lot of people without access to basic sanitation measures like toilets and a way to wash hands with soap and clean water.

When we talk about health, we talk a lot about the transmission of HIV and the prevalence of malaria, but it’s important to keep in mind the role basic sanitation plays. Diarrhea, the third biggest killer of children in developing countries (responsible for 11% of all childhood deaths), is most often caused by poor sanitation.

Other big diseases among adults and children like cholera, schistosomiasis and trachoma, are also common thanks to lack of sanitation. That’s why the WHO and UNICEF report is calling on the global community to join together and keep working to improve sanitation even after the MDG deadline of 2015 is past.

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