he World Health Organization warns billions of people who lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are at risk of deadly infectious diseases. The finding appears in the WHO and U.N.-Water’s Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) report issued this week.
Data collected from 121 countries show billions of people are facing a health crisis and states must act urgently to improve water, sanitation and hygiene, known as WASH. The report, the most comprehensive to date, finds most countries are not on track to achieve the U.N. sustainable development goal of providing water and sanitation for all by 2030.
Bruce Gordon is unit head, water, sanitation, hygiene and health at the WHO. While dramatic acceleration is needed, he says only 25 percent of countries are on track to meet their target for sanitation and only 45 percent for drinking water.
“This is against the backdrop of a tremendous amount of disease from diarrhea linked to ingestion of poor water, the root cause of poor sanitation. Lack of hand hygiene that impacts also on respiratory infections. And so, almost 2 million people are dying every year because of poorly managed water, sanitation and hygiene.”
Gordon says countries need to recommit to the targets they have made to save those lives. He notes a major opportunity to do that will occur during an historic U.N. water and sanitation conference in March. For the first time in 50 years, he says, the global community will gather to review progress and make voluntary commitments to improve the water situation.
The report delves into the impact climate-related extreme weather events have on impeding the delivery of safe WASH services. Gordon says the report highlights the importance of climate resilience and adaptation to climate change.
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“And yet when we look at the policy response, whether it is climate resilient technologies which—there are simple things to avoid floods or to mitigate droughts. Simple risk management or simple technologies. These are not being put in place.”
The WHO report calls on governments to dramatically increase investments to extend access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation services. It urges them to scale up support for WASH service delivery by putting in place monitoring systems, regulatory functions and capacity development.