One in three people in the world does not have access to safe water

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Despite great progress since 2000, 2.2 billion people still do not have sufficient access to water, hygiene and sanitation, alert the World Health Organization and Unicef. In the most affected countries, public health is at stake.

2.2 billion people still lack adequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene, despite the progress made since 2000, alert the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef. Inequalities that put these countries at risk of many disease that have long been eradicated in developed countries.

According to a report of the Joint WHO/UNICEF Program, 1.8 billion people have gained access since 2000 to basic drinking water services. But when it comes to the conditions of access, availability or quality, the situation is still critical.

“Access to these services alone is not enough: if the water is not clean, not drinkable or the supply point is too far away, if access to toilet is not safe or limited, then our mission to better the lives of children is not accomplished,” says Kelly Ann Naylor, Assistant Director for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at Unicef.

On the other hand, one in ten people, 785 million people, have no access to basic services, mainly in rural areas where this situation affects eight out of ten people. Of these, 144 million continue to drink untreated surface water. “Children from disadvantaged and rural communities and their families are the most likely to be left behind. If we want to bridge these economic and geographical gaps and thus guarantee this fundamental human right, it is imperative that governments invest in their communities,” says Kelly Ann Naylor.

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In 2017, 3 billion people still did not have a basic handwashing facility with soap and water at home.

In terms of wastewater treatment, 2.1 billion people have had access to basic sanitation services since 2000. This is important, but not perfect, since the waste produced is not always managed safely, mainly in rural and urban areas in the least developed countries.

Open defecation is one of the practices targeted by WHO and Unicef. The assessment is rather positive: since 2000, the proportion of the world population practicing open defecation has been reduced by half, from 21% to 9%, and 23 countries have achieved an almost total elimination of this practice, which now covers less than 1% of their population.

Despite this, 673 million people still practice it, increasingly concentrated in countries in Africa and Asia. “Countries need to redouble their sanitation efforts, otherwise the goal of universal access to these basic services by 2030 can not be achieved,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

These inequities of access to hygiene have serious consequences for the health of the population. Thus, a poor system of access to water, hygiene and sanitation cause the death of 297,000 children under the age of five each year due to diarrhea. In addition, poor sanitation and contaminated water promote the transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A or typhoid.

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“If countries do not multiply their actions in these areas, diseases that should have belonged for a long time to the past will continue to hit,” says Dr. Maria Neira. “Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene services is economically and socially beneficial in many ways: it is one of the necessary conditions for maintaining population in good health,” she concludes.

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Angie Mahecha

Angie Mahecha, an Engineering Student at the University of Central Florida, is originally from Colombia but has been living in Florida for the past 10 Years.