The supply of safe drinking water and the provision of sanitation are management issues that raise concerns about inequitable service provision, particularly in developing countries. Although several successful initiatives have been launched to supply safe drinking water to urban populations, efforts still fall short of the required targets for sustainable development. In developing countries water delivery systems are plagued by leakages, illegal connections and vandalism, while precious water resources are squandered through greed and mismanagement. The World Bank recently estimated that US$600 billion is required to repair and improve the world’s water delivery systems (UNCSD, 1999).
During the 1990s, the greatest reduction in per capita water supply was in Africa (by 2.8 times), Asia (by 2 times), and Latin America and the Caribbean (by 1.7 times), while water supplies available to European populations for that period decreased by 16% (WHO/UNICEF, 2000). The lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is directly related to poverty, and, in many cases, to the inability of governments to finance satisfactory water and sanitation systems. The direct and indirect human costs of these failings are enormous, including widespread health problems, excessive use of labour (particularly for women, who are forced to travel long distances to obtain water for their families), and severe limitations for economic development (Gleick, 1995). Improved water and sanitation facilities, on the other hand, bring valuable benefits for both social and economic development and poverty alleviation (WHO/UNICEF 2000).
Water Supply Highlights from the Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000:
- The percentage of people served with some form of improved water supply rose from 79% (4.1 billion people) in 1990 to 82% (4.9 billion) in 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, approximately 816 million additional people gained access to water supplies - an improvement of 3%.
- Two out of every five Africans lack access to an improved water supply. Throughout Africa, rural water services lag far behind urban services.
- During the 1990s, rural water supply percentage coverage increased, while urban coverage decreased - although the number of people who lack access to water supplies remained about the same.
- In Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 1 billion people in rural areas have no access to improved water supplies.
- To achieve the 2015 targets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, water supplies will have to reach an additional 1.5 billion people.
Sanitation Highlights from the Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000:
- The proportion of people with access to excreta disposal facilities increased from 55% (2.9 billion people) in 1990 to 60% (3.6 billion) in 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, approximately 747 million additional people gained access to sanitation facilities - although the number of people who lack access to sanitation services remained roughly the same.
- At the beginning of 2000, two-fifths of the world’s population (2.4 billion people) lacked access to improved sanitation facilities. The majority of these people live in Asia and Africa, where fewer than half of all Asians have access to improved sanitation.
- Sanitation coverage in rural areas is less than half that in urban locations, even though 80% of those lacking adequate sanitation (2 billion people) live in rural areas - some 1.3 billion in China and India alone.
- In Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 2 billion people in rural areas have no access to improved sanitation facilities.
- To achieve 2015 sanitation targets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, an additional 2.2 billion people will have to be provided with sanitation facilities.
- Polluted water is estimated to affect the health of more than 1.2 billion people, and to contribute to the death of an average 15 million children every year. In 1994, WHO estimated the number of people without access to clean drinking water at 1.3 billion. By 2000, nearly 1.2 billion people lacked access to clean water, while 2.4 billion lacked access to adequate sanitation services.