Progress in Safe Drinking Water But World yet at Risk

Schools worldwide lack access to drinking water/basic sanitation facilities

The world, despite several progresses, is still at risk of being without lifesaving access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services, said a Joint Programme Report of the WHO and the UNICEF.

The report — Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000 – 2020 –that has the latest data available, reveals that three in ten people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The report said that 74 per cent of the world population used safely managed drinking water services in 2020. The progressive report mentions that coverage was lower in rural areas (60 per cent) than in urban areas (86 per cent). It said that about 84 countries achieved universal (>99 per cent) coverage of at least basic drinking water services by 2020.


The Joint Programme Report says that it is alarming to note that nearly half of the global population or 3.6 billion people lack safe sanitation. It said that 54 per cent of the population (4.2 billion people) used safely managed sanitation services. The report stated that coverage was higher in urban areas (62 per cent) than in rural areas (44 per cent). Two thirds of those who still lacked even basic services lived in rural areas, nearly half lived in subSaharan Africa.


The WHO and UNICEF report pointed out that 494 million people still practised open defecation. However, they mentioned that the numbers of open defecation globally decreased by 245 million between 2015 and 2020. This happened with countries in Central and South Asia recording reductions. The Caribbean and Latin America countries recorded a reduction of 10 million numbers. Eastern Asia, South Eastern Asia and the Caribbean recorded reductions of 24 million respectively.


In the report, the authors mention that three out of ten people (about 2.3 billion people) across the globe lack basic hygiene services. “In 2020, 71 per cent of the global population (5.5 billion) had a basic hand washing facility with soap and water available at home. Another 21 per cent (1.6 billion) had hand washing facilities which lacked water or soap at the time of the survey, and 9 per cent (670 million) had no hand washing facility at all,” the report said.


Despite the world showing progress, the report mentions about inequalities at the national, regional and global levels. While regional coverage ranged from 96 per cent in Europe and Northern America, it was just 30 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. Inequalities were even more pronounced among the 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.


In many countries, a significant proportion of women and girls are unable to meet their menstrual health needs, the WHO and UNICVEF report noted.  Disparities are significant among vulnerable groups, such as the poor and those with disabilities, it added.


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