UNICEF and WHO Release Joint Report on Water and Sanitation

2015 Report Tracks Progress, Outlines Challenges For The Next Decade

(June 30, 2015) – UNICEF and WHO released a progress report that reveals significant global progress made in the area of safe drinking water, but improved sanitation is still unavailable for almost one in three people worldwide. The Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) 2015 Update and MDG Assessment also shows disparities in coverage between urban/rural and rich/poor populations.

“This report is tremendously encouraging on the water front. Lifewater has been working on these goals for almost 40 years,” says Lifewater International President/CEO Justin Narducci. “We love to see that progress, but we also know that safe water without effective sanitation results in the unnecessary loss of life for children under five. Safe water alone won’t alleviate this suffering and loss of life. We all must do a better job of walking with rural children and families to address water poverty in a comprehensive manner. ”

In the past 25 years, 2.6 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water. The Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of people in the world without safe water (MDG 7) was met in 2010. The progress has been significant in developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In least developed countries (LDCs), one quarter of the population has gained access to safe water since 1990. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this equates to 47,000 more people getting access to safe water for the first time every day for the past 25 years.

Globally, 663 million people still live without safe drinking water, defined as water coming from a “source that, by the nature of its construction, adequately protects the source from outside contamination, particularly fecal matter.” Almost 96 percent of the urban population enjoys safe water, but only 84 percent of the rural population has access.  About 80 percent of the people without safe water live in rural areas.

While there has been great progress in safe water coverage, progress in sanitation has been much slower. Globally, 2.4 million people (almost 1 in 3) still do not have improved sanitation, defined as a facility “that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact.” Nearly a billion people practice open defecation. Although MDG 7 also calls for halving the proportion of the world’s population without sanitation by 2015, the goal will be missed by about 700 million people.

Universal coverage for sanitation faces several challenges. Like water, urban populations have a higher level of access to sanitation. Over 82 percent of urban dwellers have access to improved sanitation, but just over half (51 percent) of rural dwellers have access. Nine out of ten people practicing open defecation live in rural areas.

The global trend of rapid urbanization presents challenges, too. Within cities, informal settlements (“slums”) are growing quickly, and they are less likely to have adequate sanitation. Therefore, although 70 percent of the 2.1 billion people who have gained access to sanitation since 1990 live in cities, the proportion with sanitation has increased only slightly.

These are challenges that will need to be addressed in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, achieving universal coverage of both safe drinking water and sanitation by 2030.

“We’re determined to end the world’s water and sanitation crisis in our lifetime,” says Narducci. “By walking alongside our global neighbors and helping them achieve sustainable access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene, we are helping them live the full life God intended. It is beautiful.”

Lifewater International is a non-profit Christian water development organization dedicated to effectively serving vulnerable children and families by partnering with underserved communities to overcome water poverty. With experience in more than 40 countries since 1977, Lifewater serves people of all faiths, focusing on contextually appropriate water sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) development. For more information, contact Christine Zurbach ( or visit Lifewater International is based in San Luis Obispo, CA.

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