2015 is the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and it is also a time to reflect on progress made during the MDG era. The MDGs challenged the global community to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation between 1990 and 2015.
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation was established in 1990 and has monitored changes in national, regional and global coverage ever since. The latest JMP report, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment, looks at how far we have come in the past 25 years and how far we still have to go to achieve universal access post-2015.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. There have been huge gains in access to drinking water – 2.6 billion people have gained access to an improved drinking water source since 1990, and 91 per cent of the global population now uses an improved drinking water source compared to 76 per cent in 1990. An improved drinking water source is defined as one that is protected from outside contamination. These gains happened as the world’s population increased by 2 billion people from 5.3 billion in 1990 to 7.3 billion in 2015.
2. Progress has been much slower when it comes to sanitation – One third of the world’s population – 2.4 billion people – still do not have access to an improved sanitation facility, one that separates human waste from human contact. Almost a billion people (946 million) do not use any sanitation facility and defecate out in the open, in fields, bushes or bodies of water. This practice, referred to as open defecation, contaminates the environment affecting entire communities and it has been linked to childhood stunting.
3. Progress has been uneven – Where you live makes a difference. Nine out of ten people practicing open defecation and eight out of ten people without an improved drinking-water source live in rural areas. People living in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are particularly disadvantaged, even more so if they are poor. Meanwhile, almost all developed countries have universal access to drinking water and sanitation.
4. Data have been crucial to measuring advances and revealing insights – The JMP has monitored progress on access to water and sanitation since 1990. It has also presented data that have brought to light inequalities between various groups, including urban and rural residents, the gender burden of water collection, and the persistent exclusion of the poor from water and sanitation services. Robust and disaggregated data, insightful analysis and compelling presentation will be crucial as we transition to the Sustainable Development Goals and work towards a future where no one is left behind.
5. Water & sanitation have been fundamental to sustainable development – Without water, sanitation and hygiene, people, countries and entire economies suffer. Women spend large amounts of time fetching water and are often put at risk in the process, people are too ill to work and be productive, and millions of children die from preventable pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease. Water and sanitation are also fundamental to the realization of other human development goals.
How has your country been progressing in the areas of water and sanitation? How many more people now have access to piped water and to what extent has open defecation decreased since 1990? An interactive dashboard created by UNICEF’s Data and Analytics section shows the latest data at the country level on improved water and sanitation around the world from 1990–2015. Since national averages often hide differences, the data is shown as a total and also broken down by urban and rural areas. Data are drawn from the latest JMP report.
Explore the interactive data visualization yourself:
Tom Slaymaker is a Senior Statistics and Monitoring Specialist in the Data & Analytics Section, Division of Data, Research and Policy, UNICEF HQ