Sanitation milestone welcomed

Posted: 6 August 2002

Two of Britain's leading charities, WaterAid and Tearfund, have welcomed the Johannesburg Summit pledge to halve the numbers without access to sanitation, as well as clean water, by 2015.

World Summit agreement to halve the number of people without access to sanitation is 'the first milestone in a long fight to halt the millions of deaths caused by preventable disease,' the two British development agencies said.

'We are pleased that - at long last - world governments have decided to tackle together the globe's biggest killer,' said Stephen Turner, deputy director of WaterAid. 'By the end of this Summit 50,000 children will have died from disease caused by a lack of clean water and sanitation. Now the challenge before the world community is to make sure that we see practical action.'

Joanne Green, water policy advisor at Tearfund, described the decision by world leaders to tackle the water and sanitation crisis as 'a significant but long-overdue step forward'. She added: 'Sanitation is one of the most important environmental issues facing the poor. It has been ignored for too long and the world has a lot of ground to make up.

'We must now ensure that a high proportion of both existing and future aid money is targeted at sanitation and water provision. And that developing country governments prioritise water and sanitation within their national poverty strategies.'

Tearfund and WaterAid, whose Water Matters campaign in the UK saw well over 100,000 people sign a petition calling for water to be prioritised at the Summit, believe that water and sanitation must be tackled together. If this can be achieved other development work will be more effective - in areas such as healthcare and education.

Forty per cent of the world's population (2.4 billion) is without adequate sanitation. And nearly 6,000 children are dying every day from conditions like diarrhoea because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet and they lack clean water.

Concluded WaterAid and Tearfund: " We hope this welcome Summit decision will bring to an end the appalling inertia that some governments have displayed in recent years, and ultimately see an end to a silent tragedy that kills millions of people each year.'

Mother and child, GhanaMother and child, Ghana© Caroline Penn/WaterAid

In a briefing for the summit, the two agencies said that more than 20 per cent of the world's population lack access to safe drinking water - a figure that may rise as high as 66 per cent of the population.

  • Four out of 10 people, 2.4 billion, are without adequate sanitation.

  • The world's population is running out of water. 40 per cent of people live with water shortages. 14 African countries are feeling the effects. 11 more will join the list by 2025.
These shocking statistics lead to the death of over three million people each year, to major loss of income, to many thousands of children failing to attend school regularly; to hours spent in the drudgery of collecting water from distant sources and ultimately economic growth is stymied.

In the burgeoning urban centres in the developing world, the problem of water and sanitation is becoming acute. Thousands of people live crammed together in unplanned settlements with no municipal water or sanitation services, having to spend a large proportion of their income on buying water and sharing inadequate sanitation facilities with many others.

Proposals blocked

Water resource management and access to water and sanitation and are among the most fundamental and urgent issues the World Summit for Sustainable Development has to tackle. One fifth of the world's population live without safe drinking water and nearly half of the world lack adequate sanitation. By 2025 half the world's population will be suffering from water shortages with massive implications for global food security. Woman collecting water, TanzaniaWoman collecting water from a traditional source in Tanzania.© Jim Holmes/WaterAidYet despite the current and looming crisis governments indicated at World Summit Prep Com IV that they are not prepared to take action. In particular a group of countries led by the USA have blocked any firm commitments being made.

Tearfund and WaterAid work with poor communities to address the problems of water supply and sanitation. While there are many examples of positive solutions, much more is needed.

In the past governments have set a target for halving the proportion of people without access to clean water. However much more money and political will is needed if the target is to be met. No target or deadlines for action had been set for access to sanitation.

An additional £11 billion is needed each year to halve the proportion number of people with no sanitation, yet £11 billion is spent each year in Europe and the US on pet food.

An additional £6 billion is needed each year to halve the number of people without safe drinking water, yet £7 billion is spent each year in Europe on ice cream

Children washing their hands at a child-friendly toilet in Southern India© Steve Bainbridge/WaterAid

Ten points

WaterAid and Tearfund called on all governments participating at the Summit to:

  • Make a political commitment to a sanitation target to halve the proportion of people without adequate sanitation by 2015

  • Prepare a 'global plan of action' to achieve the existing Goal on access to drinking water and the proposed sanitation target

  • Increase the funds available for water and sanitation in support of these targets

  • Set a timetable for increasing official development aid to the agreed UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP and prioritise sanitation, water supply and water resources within aid budgets

  • Acknowledge the importance of the relationship between poverty, environmental sustainability, health and access to water and sanitation facilities

  • Ensure all water supply and sanitation programmes are sustainable, based on the principles of community participation, the use of appropriate technologies and sustainable resource use

  • Ensure women's voices in the developing world are heard in decision-making on water and sanitation

  • Make schools in the developing world a key target for improved water supply and sanitation facilities and hygiene education

  • Make water and sanitation a priority in country driven national strategies for poverty reduction

  • Water resource management plans to be integrated into national strategies for poverty reduction and sustainable development by 2005

This report is part of Water Matters, a campaign to ensure that everyone has access to safe water and adequate sanitation.

Related links:

WaterAid

TearFund Watermatters Give Water (a donate-for-free website)

People & Planet Water