Key Facts:

-    The global MDG target for potable water was met in 2010.

-    96% of the global urban population now uses improved drinking water sources.

-    8/10 people are still without safe drinking sources in rural areas.

-    9/10 people still practice open defecation in rural areas.

-    As of 2015, 2.4 billion people still lack sanitation facilities. 

Fifteen years ago, the United Nations created Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #7 to ensure environmental sustainability, provide sanitary drinking water, and end open defecation. The global community was challenged to halve the proportion of the global population who lack safe drinking water and basic sanitation. In 2010, the global community reached the target for safe drinking water by ensuring that 90% of the world’s population had access to clean drinking water. However, in 2015, we have failed to fully reach our MDG objectives by leaving 2.4 billion people without access to basic sanitation. Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, notes that basic sanitation is “critical to the achievement of other development objectives such as adequate nutrition, gender equality, education and the eradication of poverty.” The 2015 Update on MDG Assessment for Sanitation and Drinking Water highlights the next steps that the global community must take in order to eliminate open defecation by 2025.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF have created a Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) to monitor and analyze the evolution of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) and how each phase of MDG development has aided the overall goal. JMP works to establish norms in sanitation and drinking water, inform decision making of policies and key targets, as well as facilitate critical dialogue among key players in the WASH arena. Overall, JMP has developed classifications that assist in designating exactly what ‘clean, drinkable water’ is and what ‘basic sanitation’ encompasses.

So, what did they find?

The good news — 2.6 billion people worldwide have gained access to potable water since 1990 when the MDG was created. Of those who still do not have safe drinking water, half live in sub-Saharan Africa and one-fifth live in Southern Asia. Although we have reached our goal for safe drinking water, there are still disparities in the ability to access drinking water between those living in urban areas and those living in rural areas. Four out of five people who live in urban areas have access to clean, piped drinking water compared to only one in three people in rural areas. While there is still work to be done to close this gap, the progress made during the MDG period was very effective.

The bad news — Since 1990, the use of improved sanitation facilities globally has only increased from 54% to 68% thus, missing the 77% MDG target. This leaves 700 million people without access to proper sanitation. Similar to the disparity seen in clean drinking water, 82% of the global urban population has access to improved sanitation facilities compared to 51% of the rural population. Open defecation is still a very real problem to a large portion of the global population thus, affecting all aspects of life as Jan Eliasson mentions.

Clearly, there is unfinished business here. JMP has been working to analyzing the gaps between urban and rural areas in order to make faster progress in eliminating inequalities in access. They are working to address basic hygiene factors such as hand washing with soap, menstrual hygiene management, WASH in schools, and WASH in health care facilities. The biggest challenge is ensuring that MDG progress reaches everyone. The newest timeline aims to have basic sanitary facilities for previously unreachable populations by 2025.

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