Without access to basic services

Billions of People Will Be Without Access to Basic Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Services Before 2030; WHO and UNICEF

Millones de Personas Se Quedarán Sin Acceso a Servicios Básicos

The latest estimates reveal that 3 out of every 10 people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Billions of people around the world will be without access to safely managed before 2030 unless the rate of progress is multiplied by four, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Estimates on Basic Services for 2030

The report from the Joint Monitoring Program "Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020" presents estimates regarding household access to safely managed basic drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services over the last five years. It assesses progress towards achieving the six Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aiming to "ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030." Additionally, the report introduces new country-specific data for the first time related to menstrual health.

In 2020, approximately one in four people lacked a safely managed source of drinking water at home, and almost half of the global population did not have access to safely managed basic sanitation services. COVID-19 has underscored the urgent need to ensure that everyone has access to proper hand hygiene. At the onset of the pandemic, 3 out of every 10 people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water at home.

"Washing hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases; however, millions of people around the world do not have access to a safe drinking water source," stated Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. "Investments in water, sanitation, and hygiene must be a global priority if we want to end this pandemic and build more resilient health systems."

Several Advances Have Been Made, But They Are Insufficient

The report reveals that some progress has been made towards achieving universal access to safely managed water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services. Between 2016 and 2020, the percentage of the global population with a safely managed source of drinking water at home increased from 70% to 74%; safely managed sanitation services increased from 47% to 54%; and facilities for handwashing with soap and water increased from 67% to 71%.

In 2020, for the first time, more people used improved on-site sanitation services (such as pit latrines and septic tanks, which can effectively contain and treat waste) than sewer connections. Governments need to ensure necessary support to provide safely managed on-site sanitation services, including the management of fecal sludge.

The Urgent Need for Investments

The report clearly explains that, if current trends persist, billions of children and families will be left without life-saving essential WASH services. Specifically, the report points out that by 2030:

  • Only 81% of the global population will have access to safe drinking water at home, leaving 1.6 billion people without this essential resource;
  • Only 67% will have adequate sanitation services, impacting 2.8 billion people;
  • Only 78% will have basic facilities for handwashing, meaning 1.9 billion people will lack access to them.

Furthermore, the report highlights deep inequalities that particularly affect vulnerable children and families. If we are to achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water sources before 2030, the current rate of progress needs to be multiplied by 10 in the least developed countries. In fragile contexts, where people are twice as likely to lack access to safe drinking water, this rate should be multiplied by 23.

"Even before the pandemic, millions of children and families were already suffering due to the lack of clean water, sanitation, and a place to wash their hands," stated Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF. "Despite the incredible progress made to date in expanding these life-saving services, the alarming and growing needs continue to outpace our capacity to respond. It is time to drastically accelerate our efforts to address the most basic needs of children and families and protect their health and well-being, including the fight against infectious diseases like COVID-19."

The report highlights other important findings, including the following:

  • 8 out of 10 people lacking access to safely managed basic water supply services lived in rural areas. On the other hand, safely managed sanitation services reached 62% of the global urban population but only 44% of the rural population.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the slowest progress rate in the world. Only 54% of the population had access to safe drinking water, and only 25% lived in fragile contexts.

The latest menstrual health data reveal that in many countries, a significant proportion of women and girls cannot meet their menstrual health needs. Notably, the most significant differences are observed among vulnerable groups, such as poor girls and those with disabilities.

Priorities for Expanding WASH Coverage

To expand WASH coverage, it will be essential to prioritize this issue at the highest levels of decision-making processes by international organizations, governments, civil society, and the private sector. To achieve this, WASH should be a crucial topic on the agenda of high-level political meetings, ensuring that member states monitor progress. This is particularly important in the context of the upcoming midterm review of the Water Action Decade in 2023, the first United Nations conference on water and sanitation in almost 50 years.

Source: World Health Organization Press Release