At a glance:
Water and sanitation

The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation is one of the major causes of disease and death worldwide. Every year over 5 million people die from water-related diseases: some 3 million from diarrhoea and around 2 million from malaria. Meanwhile women in developing countries walk many kilometres a day to fetch often unsafe supplies of water for their families, carrying back loads of some 20 kilograms – the weight of a piece of aircraft luggage. And, within a few decades, about a third of the world’s people are expected to suffer from chronic water shortages.

The incidence of disease and death around the world could be cut by three quarters if there were adequate supplies of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. There have been improvements over past decades. In the 1990s the number of people with improved water supplies increased from 4.1 to 4.9 billion. In the first half of the decade, 170 million more developing-country urban dwellers were provided with safe water and 70 million more with appropriate sanitation. But this achievement was swamped by the effects of population growth and urban migration, which meant that 300 million more people in cities and towns lacked a safe water supply by the end of 1994, and 600 million more lacked adequate sanitation.

At the present rate of investment safe drinking water will not be provided to all the peoples of Asia before 2025, and this will not be achieved in Latin America and the Caribbean before 2040 or Africa before 2050. The rate of progress urgently needs to be accelerated. At the Millennium Summit in September 2000, the world’s nations resolved to reduce by half the number of people without access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2015. Two years later, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, they adopted a similar goal for sanitation.

Meanwhile more than half the world’s rivers are seriously degraded and polluted, threatening the health and livelihoods of people who depend on them. But the World Water Council reports that many developing countries – through investing in wastewater treatment – ‘have halted the decline in – or actually improved – the quality of surface water’.

Geoffrey Lean

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Action for tomorrow | Turning words into action | One hand washes the other | People | Fragile resource | Realizing the dream | Washing away poverty | At a glance: Water and sanitation | Music makes magic – Angélique Kidjo | Targeting sanitation | In a city like Mumbai | Flowing from the bottom up | Books & products | Watering a thirsty land | Peace through parks | Reaching the unheard