Almost four years after the world met the global target set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for safe drinking water, and after the UN General Assembly declared that water was a human right, over three-quarters of a billion people, most of them poor, still do not have this basic necessity, UNICEF said to commemorate World Water Day.
Estimates from UNICEF and WHO published in 2013 are that a staggering 768 millionpeople do not have access to safe drinking water, causing hundreds of thousands of children to sicken and die each year. Most of the people without access are poor and live in remote rural areas or urban slums. UNICEF estimates that 1,400 children under five die every day from diarrheal diseases linked to lack of safe water and adequate sanitation and hygiene.
“Every child, rich or poor, has the right to survive, the right to health, the right to a future,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene program. “The world should not rest until every single man, woman and child has the water and sanitation that is theirs as a human right.”
The MDG target for drinking water was met and passed in 2010, when 89 per cent of the global population had access to improved sources of drinking water — such as piped supplies, boreholes fitted with pumps, and protected wells. Also in 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, meaning every person should have access to safe water and basic sanitation. However, this basic right continues to be denied to the poorest people across the world.
“What continues to be striking, and maybe even shocking, is that even in middle income countries there are millions of poor people who do not have safe water to drink,” Wijesekera added. “We must target the marginalized and often forgotten groups: those who are the most difficult to reach, the poorest and the most disadvantaged.”
According to UNICEF and WHO estimates, 10countries are home to almost two-thirds of the global population without access to improved drinking water sources. They are: China (108 million); India (99 million); Nigeria (63 million); Ethiopia (43 million); Indonesia (39 million); Democratic Republic of the Congo (37 million); Bangladesh (26 million); United Republic of Tanzania (22 million); Kenya (16 million) and Pakistan (16 million).
Ethiopia is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal target related to water-62 per cent of the population should access improved sources of drinking water by
2015 against the MDG target of 57 per cent. More than half of the households (54 per cent) have access to an improved source of drinking water, compared to 35 per cent in
2005 and 25 per cent only in 2000 (EDHS 2011).
However, the country is lagging behind on sanitation targets. While the MDG target for access to improved sanitation facilities is 51 per cent, only 8.3 per cent (EDHS 2011) of
the population has access to improved sanitation. Children in school are especially vulnerable as the National Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Inventory data shows that
only 33 per cent of school have improved sanitation facilities for students and teachers, and only 31 per cent have access to water.
“While the theme this year is the inter-linkage between water and energy, we should focus on women and children as the primary beneficiaries of water in Ethiopia,” said
Samuel Godfrey, Chief of WASH in UNICEF Ethiopia.
Huge disparities in the quality of water and sanitation infrastructure lie between the urban and rural area. In most rural areas across Ethiopia, water scarcity, inferior water quality, lack of sanitation facilities and inappropriate hygiene behaviors threaten the well-being of communities. There is also an urgent need to address the issue of separate sanitary facilities. Girls are often reluctant to use facilities, even if they are clean, because toilet blocks and hand washing facilities (important for menstrual hygiene) rarely provide the level of privacy and security they require.
“It is vital that girls should not feel marginalized and lose their self-respect due to lack of WASH facilities in schools. We need to foster an environment where girls maintain their dignity and focus on their school attendance and achievements,” stresses Mr. Godfrey.
In order to harmonize the WASH efforts in the country, the ONEWASH program has been launched in 2013, bringing together four ministries: Water Resources; Health; Education; and Finance & Economic Development. ONEWASH attempts to modernize the way water and sanitation services are delivered; improving the health situation, decreasing the drop-out rates of children in schools, and making financing for Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) more effective. Above all, the program contributes significantly in meeting both the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets.
This week, UNICEF launched a global social media campaign to demand action for the 768 million people without access to safe water. Followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be asked to discuss what water means to them through the use of photography and the hashtag #WaterIs to help raise awareness of what it means to live without access to safe drinking water.