Water Supply & Sanitation

    Our main problems in rural communities are the following: walking long distances about 2 to 3 kilometers daily to public tap; carrying heavy containers on our heads 20 to 25 litres per trips; long queues at the point of taps; should there be contamination at this common point the whole village is at risk."

    Adult female of South Africa, Water Voice Project, 2003


    Water and sanitation


    A threatening situation, needing to be faced


    1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, including 90 % of children under 5. This situation is no longer bearable.

    To face the crisis, the United Nations formulated an amount of so called Millennium Development Goals, dedicated to reduce poverty and ensure sustainable development. Goal number 7, target 10 is the following one:

     "Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation." 

    The year of reference for this goal is 1990. In order to meet the water supply and sanitation target, an additional 260 000 people per day up to 2015 should gain access to improved water sources and an additional 370 000 people should gain access to improved sanitation (WHO 2004, Facts and Figures). 


    What are the benefits of safe water supply and sanitation?


    What are the expected outcomes of meeting the MDG 7 Target 10? In the context of development challenges, it is a great priority to focus on water supply and sanitation. Indeed, it is an imperative to respect human values, it provides good health and ensures economic benefits.



    Respecting human values

    Expanding access to water and sanitation is a moral and ethical imperative rooted in the cultural and religious traditions of communities around the world. Dignity, equity, compassion and solidarity are values shared all over the world. Extending water supply and sanitation services to poor households would largly contribute to promoting them. The Right to Water, recently proclaimed by the United Nations, (General Comment No 15, 2002), is said to be "indispensable for leading a life in human dignity" and "a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights."

    Improving the health of the community.

    Safe drinking water and basic sanitation is of crucial importance to the preservation of human health, especially among children. Water-related diseases are the most common cause of illness and death among the poor of developing countries. According to the World Health Organization, 1.6 million deaths of children per year can be attributed to unsafe water, poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program evaluated that meeting the MDG Target 10 would avert 470 000 deaths per year.

    Generating economic benefits

    An analysis by the WHO found that achiving the MDG number 7 would bring substantial economic gains: each $1 invested would yield an economic return of between $3 and $34, depending on the region. 

    Households with improved services suffer less morbidity and mortality from water-related diseases. The benefits would include an average global reduction of 10 % in diarrheal episodes. Health-related costs avoided would reach $7.3 billion per year and the annual global value of adult working days gained because of less illness would rise to almost $750 million.

    Better services resulting from the relocation of a well or borehole to a site closer to user communities, the installation of piped water supply in houses, and latrines closer to home yield significant time savings.

    Girls and women have better educational and productive opportunities when they have water and sanitation facilities nearby, because they can safeguard their privacy in school and save time fetching water.

    The availability of water can be used to start or expand small enterprises and thus increase disposable household income.

    At the national level, demand for agricultural products increased, and tourism may develop.

    The benefits of such services will vary across regions. The worse unserved and the more touched by disease the region, the greater the benefits from improved services.

    Improving life at all ages

    From the age of 0 to 4 years, the cruel toll of child mortality may be reduced.

    From the age of 5 to 14 years, far more children, especially girls, could go to school if they had adequate drinking water and sanitation facilities. It would enable children to escape from their families'poverty.

    From the age of 15 to 59 years, productivity gains would be achieved with improved water and sanitation facilities.

    People older than 60 could expect to live longer.

    How to meet the MDG number 7?

    With 10 years to go until 2015, a dramatic increase in access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation services for poor women, men, and children in developing countries will be required, if the MDG number 7 is to be met. Changes in behavior and attitudes, particularly with regard to hygiene, is also a prerequisite.

    The interventions required to meet the MDGs vary across regions, countries, and even subnational areas. Context strongly influences the nature of the water resources actions that must be taken to meet the Goals. The actions needed in a given case depend on the extent to which availability of water resources is adequate to meet the requirement for water resources to meet the health, poverty, gender, and environmental sustainability objectives of the MDGs.

    The UN Millennium Project Task Force on Water and Sanitation identified 10 key actions as essential to meeting the Millennium Development Goals:

    Governments and other stakeholders must move the sanitation crisis to the top of the agenda.

    Countries must ensure that policies and institutions for water supply and sanitation service delivery, as well as for water resources mangement and development, respond equally to the different roles, needs, and priorities of women and men.

    Governments and donor agencies must simultaneously pursue investment and reforms.

    Efforts to reach the water and sanitation target must focus on sustainable service delivery, rather than construction of facilities alone.

    Governments and donor agencies must empower local authorities and communities with the authority, resources, and professional capacity required to manage water supply and sanitation service delivery.

    Governments and utilities must ensure that users who can pay do pay in order to fund the maintenance and expansion of services - but they must also ensure that the needs of poor households are met.

    Within the context of national poverty reduction strategies based on the Millennium Development Goals, countries must elaborate coherent water resources development and management plans that will support the achievement of the Goals.

    Governments and their civil society and private sector partners must support a wide range of water and sanitation technologies and service levels that are technically, socially, environmentally, and financially appropriate.

    Institutional, financial, and technological innovation must be promoted in strategic areas.

    The United Nations system organizations and their member states must ensure that the UN system and its international partners provide strong and effective support for the achievement of the water supply and sanitation target and for water resources management and development.