WHO Water Report: 2.1 Billion Lack Safe Water at Home

3 in 10 people worldwide don’t have access to safe water at home. 6 in 10 people, a full 4.5 billion, don’t have a safe place to go to the bathroom.

A recent WHO water report outlines the challenges ahead for providing universal access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. The report, a collaboration between the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) through the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), underlines the fundamental importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene to the world’s health and children.

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The 66-page document, Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (2017 Update and SDG Baselines), identifies new, additional categories of access for water, sanitation, and hygiene to more precisely measure the quality and proximity of these resources. For example, having safe water available at home is a significant improvement from having safe water available more than half an hour away. The WHO water report also establishes baseline statistics (from 2015) to measure progress toward the goal of universal water and sanitation coverage established in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which expire in 2030.

Some key findings:

  • 844 million people (about 1 in 10 people worldwide) still lack access to basic drinking water, including 263 million who must walk/wait more than 30 minutes for water, 423 million who use unprotected sources like unprotected springs, and 159 million who collect surface water from lakes or streams. Over 90% of the people collecting surface water live in rural areas.
  • 2.3 billion people still lack basic sanitation (1 in 3 people worldwide), including 892 million who practice open defecation. The vast majority of those practicing open defecation live in rural areas.
  • Only 1 in 4 people living in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have access to a handwashing facility with soap and water.

Safe water storage is a key takeaway from the WHO report

Sanitation and Hygiene Lag Behind Water Access

Although there has been progress, sanitation and hygiene lag far behind water in availability worldwide, especially for rural areas and economically marginalized groups.

Perhaps the most significant shift presented by the WHO water report is the enhanced effort to track data on hygiene, specifically, the availability of handwashing facilities with soap and water. Governments and other data-collecting bodies have long neglected hygiene as a necessary companion to safe water and sanitation. The availability of handwashing facilities can be difficult to track, and reliable data remains sparse, but by establishing and publishing a standard for hygiene, good data will emerge over time.

“We are very happy to see that hygiene data is included in the report since poor sanitation and hygiene easily contaminate safe water,” says Lifewater President/CEO Justin Narducci. “The work of reaching rural regions with sanitation and hygiene is much harder and requires an intentional strategy to mobilize people to change behaviors and practices. Our Vision of a Healthy Village and Healthy Homes strategies are accomplishing this in remote, difficult areas.”

Of the nations with available data, Lifewater is serving 3 of the 4 nations where less than 25% of the population has safely managed drinking water sources (Uganda, Ethiopia, and Cambodia).

“This report affirms our focus on reaching the rural poor, who still lack access to basic water and sanitation services,” continues Narducci. “Behind each of these numbers is a child, a mother, a father–someone made in God’s image. We are wholly committed to working alongside these families to bring health, healing and the hope of the Gospel.”

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