- The World Health Organization and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme has released a report – Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2017: Special focus on inequalities.
- The report assesses the progress made at the national, regional and global levels in reducing inequalities in household WASH services (water, sanitation and hygiene) for the period 2000-2017 and identifies the populations most at risk of being left behind.
- WASH is an acronym that stands for water, sanitation and hygiene.
- Universal, affordable and sustainable access to WASH is a key public health issue within international development and is the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 6.
- Access to WASH includes safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene education.
- Several international development agencies assert that attention to WASH can improve health, life expectancy, student learning, gender equality, and other important issues of international development.
- The joint WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) established in 1990 provides regular global reports related to WASH services to facilitate sector planning and management, to support countries in their efforts to improve their monitoring systems, and to provide information for advocacy.
WHO & UNICEF’s report on WASH services
- While significant progress has been made towards achieving universal access to WASH, there are huge gaps in the quality of services provided.
- Open defecation:
- Open defecation has been halved since 2000, from 21 per cent to 9 per cent, however, 673 million people still continue this practice in high burden countries.
- Moreover, in 39 countries, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people openly defecating has increased.
- The biggest fall in open defecation has been in Central and Southern Asia where nearly two thirds of the population – 58 per cent – went to the toilet in the open in 2000. This fell to 20 per cent in 2017.
- Drinking water:
- 8 billion people have gained access to basic drinking water but there are still vast inequalities in accessibility, availability and quality.
- Around 144 million people still drink untreated surface water, putting themselves at risk of picking up a host of diseases. Every year, 297,000 under-age-five children die from diarrhea linked to inadequate WASH.
- Further, the changing climate is destroying, drying up and contaminating water sources. Unless acted upon, by 2040, 600 million children will live in areas of water stress.
- Drinking water:
- India has increased the percentage of its population with access to a protected drinking water source less than 30 minutes away, from 79% in 2000 to 93% in 2017.
- However, the percentage of households getting piped water has remained stagnant at 44% over the 17-year period.
- Success in reducing open defecation:
- With regard to sanitation, India’s record has been better. The country is responsible for almost single-handedly dragging the world towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal of ending open defecation.
- It accounts for almost two thirds of the 650 million people globally who stopped practising open defecation between 2000 and 2017.
- Driven by Swacch Bharat Mission:
- This has been made possible by the Swachh Bharat Mission which can act as an example and inspiration to other countries.
- The reasons for the success of the programme are political leadership, public financing, partnerships and people’s participation.
- Waste treatment remains a concern:
- The millions of new toilets which mark the progress of the Swachh Bharat mission are, however, producing large amounts of solid and liquid waste that India simply does not have the ability to treat and dispose of safely.
- Only 30% of the country’s wastewater is treated at plants providing at least secondary treatment, in comparison to an 80% global average.
- Countries all over the world need to step up efforts in providing WASH services, otherwise the world will continue to live with diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A, diseases that should have been eradicated long ago.
- Children and their families in poor and rural communities are most at risk of being left behind. Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is a cost effective way to bridge economic and geographic divides.
- Hence, closing inequality gaps in these domains should be at the heart of government funding and planning strategies to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.