As World Water Week begins, UNICEF says that despite tremendous progress in the last two decades in bringing access to improved drinking water sources to billions of people, finishing the task is not going to be easy.
“There have been outstanding gains in every region of the world,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. “However, the job is not done until every single person every day can get sufficient drinking water from a reliable source—and unfortunately the most difficult part is ahead.”
Wijesekera cited a report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012, released earlier this year by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, which says that between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water such as piped supplies, or protected wells. The report says the world reached the Millennium Development Goal on drinking water in 2010, five years ahead of schedule, but that 783 million people are still without access.
According to the report, those still without access are the hardest to reach, being largely the poorest people in urban slums or deep rural areas.
UNICEF says the most important step in providing universal access will be to address the inequities which exist in all regions and at all levels and where the poorest and women are most affected.
According to UNICEF, when water is not available on premises and has to be collected, women and girls are much more likely to be the main water carriers for families, walking an average of six kilometres per day in some regions.
Poorer countries lag far behind their wealthier counterparts, as only 11 per cent of the population in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) use piped water supplies compared to over 50 per cent of the global population.
Within countries, there is an almost universal disparity of access in rural areas compared to urban areas. Overall, 80 per cent of the world’s urban population has piped water connections, compared to less than 30 per cent of people in rural areas. The rural-urban divide is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa where the gap is 29 percentage points. In LDCs, 97 out of every 100 rural dwellers do not have access to piped water.
The principles of “The Human Right to Water”, endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2010, state that drinking water should be affordable, reliable, safe, accessible and available in a sufficient quantity to meet basic needs.
UNICEF projects that in 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals are due, 605 million people will still not have this basic human right.
UNICEF is a member of the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) global partnership aimed at achieving universal and sustainable access to sanitation and drinking-water. More information is available at www.sanitationandwaterforall.org