Globally, billions of people still lack access to adequate sanitation and uncontaminated water, according to report released by United Nations and World Health Organization this week.
The numbers are startling. Out of the world’s population of 7.3 billion people, about one-quarter of them drink water from sources polluted with fecal matter, and one billion people practice open defacation. That number is especially high in rural parts of the world, where as many as nine out of 10 people have no toilets and instead must rely on using open fields or areas that may be close to drinking water.
And hundreds of millions of people still do not have access to soap and clean water, a measure of sanitation that would prevent the spread of several potentially fatal diseases, the report said. This finding is especially sobering given that the Ebola outbreak that has swept West Africa since December could have been fought more effectively with running water and soap.
These figures are only among nations that participated in the UN survey and analysis. Russia, China and much of North Africa, for example, did not contribute information to this report. In all, the survey included 94 countries and 23 agencies that represent a majority of nations receiving development assistance for water and sanitation.
As bleak as those statistics are, positive developments have emerged. Since 1990, an estimated 2.3 billion more people now have water that is safe to drink. During that same time, the number of children who die from diarrhea and similar illnesses has dropped by 60 percent, down from 1.5 million to 600,000 deaths, thanks to the presence of clean water and hygienic sanitation, the report says.
Since 2010, the United Nations resolution established that access to clean water and sanitation to be a human right.