China, India making poor progress on sanitation: UN
Worldwide, 5 billion people are expected to be without a connection to public sewerage by 2030 -- that’s 1.1 billion more people than in 2000, according to latest estimates (source:
Sanitation was the theme for World Water Day commemorated on March 22, and 2008 is also being celebrated as International Year of Sanitation to focus the world’s attention on a problem that it is failing to solve. Worldwide, 5 billion people are expected to be without a connection to public sewerage by 2030 -- that’s 1.1 billion more people than in 2000, according to latest estimates. Sadly, two of the world’s most populated and fastest growing nations, China and India, have made poor progress in improving sanitation coverage, says the United Nations. China had “travelled less than half the distance to its target,’’ on providing access to safe water and sanitation, while India’s efforts were “not enough to stay on track,’’ according to a recent review by the United Nations of progress made halfway into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) timeline. Released ahead of World Water Day, the review revealed that Bangladesh, another populous South Asian nation, had also fallen behind, with the UN saying it “too is off track”. Globally, 1.2 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion are without sanitation. While significant progress has been made in lowering the numbers of the latter, too little progress on the former has proven counterproductive to the interlinked health and environment goals. Goal seven of the eight MDGs made in 2000 was a pledge to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people (from 1990 levels) without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. However, as more and more parts of the world become water-stressed, experts face the growing problem of improving the supply of water to the world’s taps and toilets. The Asian continent poses a major challenge to achieving ambitious water and sanitation goals since it is home to growing giants like China and India. And, thus far, the two are failing. China accounts for a third of the region’s 1.5 billion people without safe sanitation, while India accounts for another third. Then again, smaller countries like Cambodia and Laos too have very few toilets. Currently, only 17% of Cambodia’s rural population, where a majority of the country’s 14.8 million population live, have access to toilets, says Nasir Hassan of the World Health Organisation (WHO). In neighbouring Laos, only 30% of the population have access to basic sanitation. By contrast, South East Asian countries like Singapore and Brunei have 100% sanitation coverage; Thailand has 99% coverage, and Malaysia 94%.Thailand’s success offers a note of caution, however, as it was not accompanied by a dramatic drop in waterborne diseases. “Despite near-100% sanitation coverage, the morbidity rates did not come down,” Dr Twisuk Punpeng, senior advisor at Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, says. “New toilets alone will not reduce morbidity rates. Good hygiene practices are also essential.”Currently, only 30% of people worldwide are connected to a public sewerage system, and, globally, one child dies every 20 seconds from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea or cholera as a result of poor sanitation, according to UN estimates. Diarrhoeal disease remains the leading killer of children under five years in the Asia Pacific region, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in a recent document.Poor sanitation in the region also affects education, Unicef adds. “School enrolment is affected as children, especially girls, are less likely to stay in school without adequate water and safe, private sanitation and washing facilities.”One of the biggest problems for sanitation and safe water access is the worsening global water crisis. Areas of water scarcity and stress are predicted to expand over the next two decades, making it even harder to get water to those who need it most, according to the global news agency Reuters.Currently, 44% of the world’s population live in areas affected by high water stress. That figure is likely to rise to 47% by 2030 because of factors like global warming and population increase. In Africa, up to 250 million people may suffer more water stress by 2020. Though the exact effects of global warming are difficult to predict, water supplies and climatic changes are deeply linked, Achim Steiner, the UN’s Environment Programme executive director, says. “But even without climate change we already have a water crisis in many parts of the world based on decades of perhaps overly simplistic views of the root problems and solutions,” he says.
Source:, March 22, 2008, March 21, 2008