The Millennium Development Goal (MDG 7) drinking water target has been met, but marked disparities persist
Trends in the percentage of the global population using piped water on premises or other improved drinking water sources, unimproved sources or surface water, 1990─2012.
Source: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), 2014.
Universal access to safe drinking water is a fundamental need and human right. Securing access for all would go a long way in reducing illness and death, especially among children. By the end of 2012, 89 per cent of the world’s population was using improved drinking water sources, exceeding the 2015 MDG target of 88 per cent. Over the period 2.3 billion people gained access to an improved drinking water source, of these 1.6 billion gained access to a piped supply on premises. Despite this enormous accomplishment, troubling disparities persist: 748 million people do not use an improved drinking water source, most of whom are poor and live in rural areas. Questions also remain about the safety of ‘improved’ drinking water sources which may not always be free of contaminants and may not provide a reliable supply of water throughout the year.
Since 1990 there have been substantial increases in coverage of improved sources and especially piped water on premises across many regions. Notably, in Eastern Asia piped water on premises increased by 37 percentage points between 1990 and 2012, with 487 million gaining access in China alone. Coverage of improved drinking water sources now exceeds 90 per cent in many developing regions. In contrast, less than two-thirds of the population uses an improved source in both Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa. Although much remains to be done, impressive increases have been achieved in sub-Saharan Africa where an average of 50,000 people gained access every day since 1990.
While progress has been impressive, disparities exist between people of different socio-economic levels in the society and coverage depends strongly on where you live. The disparity between urban and rural areas is pronounced in many countries: in 2012, 82% of people without improved drinking water lived in rural areas and 72% of those gaining access to a piped supply on premises live urban areas. Between 1995 and 2012, two thirds of countries successfully reduced rural-urban inequality whilst expanding access nationwide (top right quadrant). However, in several countries (bottom right quadrant) coverage in urban areas increased more rapidly than in rural areas, thereby decreasing rural-urban equality. Globally the gap between rural and urban areas has fallen from 33 to 14 percentage points.
Disparities in access to different types of water supply are also evident within rural and urban areas. For example, there are striking differences in the types of water supply used in urban Kenya as a whole and people living in informal settlements in Mombasa. Whereas the majority of urban dwellers (56%) enjoy the benefits of a piped supply on premises, only 13 per cent of those living in Mombasa’s informal settlements do and most must rely on water from water kiosks. There are even disparities in access within informal settlements in Mombasa – the wealthiest tercile are much more likely to have access to piped water on premises and half as likely to rely on water kiosks as the poorest.
Source: Bain R, Cronk R, Hossain R et al. Global assessment of exposure to faecal contamination through drinking water. Tropical Medicine & International Health. 2014.
The “improved source” indicator is based on classification of water supplies by facility type. With the exception of arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh, the indicator does not account for direct measurements of water quality. Although it is known that improved sources are less likely to be contaminated than unimproved sources, they are not always free of contaminants. Estimates suggest that almost 2 billion people use an unimproved source or an improved source that is contaminated with faecal indicator bacteria suggesting a need for greater attention to water safety and its management in many countries.
This thematic report on drinking water highlights the substantive challenges that remain in achieving safe, sustainable and equitable access to drinking water.
The world has made great strides in increasing access to drinking water and sanitation for billions of people but progress has been uneven.
This joint WHO/UNICEF report documents the gains that have been made since 1990 and highlights substantive disparities such as those between regions, rural and urban areas and for marginalized groups.
WHO/UNICEF JOINT MONITORING PROGRAMME FOR WATER SUPPLY AND SANITATION
Since 1990, WHO and UNICEF have tracked progress on global water and sanitation goals through the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP). The JMP monitors trends in coverage; helps build national monitoring capacity in developing countries; develops and harmonises questionnaires, indicators and definitions to ensure comparability of data over time and among countries; and informs policymakers of the status of the water supply and sanitation sector through annual publications. The JMP draws guidance from a technical advisory group of leading experts in water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and from institutions involved in data collection and sector monitoring. Further information about the JMP and its methodology can be found at the JMP website.
The JMP estimates are primarily based on information collected in household surveys such as Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). For the 2014 update well over 1400 datasets were included, a median of 8 surveys or censuses per country. Household surveys are usually conducted by national institutes of statistics, carried out by trained national staff who collect information on a wide range of health and living conditions through face-to-face interviews. Nationally owned and independently verifiable, these data sources provide national governments with a periodic update of the status and progress with respect to the use of different drinking water sources and sanitation facilities – complementing line-ministry monitoring and information systems. Increasingly household survey data allow for assessing disparities in access by marginalized populations and geographic areas.
DEFINITION OF ACCESS TO SAFE DRINKING WATER
An ‘improved drinking water source’ is defined as one that, by nature of its construction or through active intervention, is protected from outside contamination, in particular from contamination with faecal matter. To allow for international comparability of estimates, the JMP uses the following classification to differentiate between ‘improved’ and ‘unimproved’ drinking water sources.
Access to safe drinking water is determined by the percentage of the population using ‘improved’ water sources
Piped water into dwelling, plot or yard
Unprotected dug well
* If people do not use an improved source for other purposes, such as food preparation or washing hands.