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Two billion people still drink polluted water worldwide

New Delhi : While many countries have upped their budgets to provide water and sanitation facilities to people, the United Nations believes that much more needs to be done, that too quickly, to meet targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Warning that nearly two billion people currently use fecal-contaminated water across the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that dramatic improvements are needed in ensuring access to clean water and sanitation worldwide.

Hundreds of thousands of people die each year because they are forced to drink contaminated water, said WHO, urging for large investments to help provide universal access to safe drinking water.

“Today, almost two billion people use a source of drinking-water contaminated with feces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health Dr Maria Neira.

"Contaminated drinking-water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma," she added.

The WHO stresses that countries will not meet global aspirations of universal access to safe drinking-water and sanitation unless steps are taken to use financial resources more efficiently and increase efforts to identify new sources of funding.

According to the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) 2017 report, countries have increased their budgets for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at an annual average rate of 4.9 per cent over the last three years.

Yet, 80 per cent of countries report that WASH financing is still insufficient to meet nationally-defined targets for these services.

In many developing countries, current national coverage targets are based on achieving access to basic infrastructure, which may not always provide continuously safe and reliable services. Planned investments have yet to take into account the much more ambitious SDG targets, which aim for universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030.

In order to meet the SDG global targets, the World Bank estimates investments in infrastructure need to triple to $114 billion per year – a figure which does not include operating and maintenance costs.

While the funding gap is vast, 147 countries have previously demonstrated the ability to mobilize the resources required to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of people without an improved source of water, and 95 met the corresponding target for sanitation.

The much more ambitious SDG targets will require collective, coordinated and innovative efforts to mobilize even higher levels of funding from all sources: taxes, tariffs (payments and labour from households), and transfers from donors.

"This is a challenge we have the ability to solve," said Chair of UN-Water and Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Guy Ryder.

"Increased investments in water and sanitation can yield substantial benefits for human health and development, generate employment and make sure that we leave no one behind."

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