WHO warns that 2 billion people worldwide are drinking water contaminated with faecal matter. Source: Reuters/Feisal Oma


HUNDREDS of thousands of people die each year because they are forced to drink water contaminated with faecal matter, the World Health Organisation said Thursday, warning that dramatic improvements are needed in ensuring access to clean water and sanitation worldwide.

“Today, almost two billion people use a source of drinking-water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” Dr Maria Neira, who heads WHO’s Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

“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,” she added.

The report warns that countries will not meet global aspirations of universal access to safe drinking-water and sanitation at the current rate of investment, urging countries 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 at an annual average rate of 4.9 percent over the last three years.

Yet, 80 percent of countries report that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) financing is still insufficient to meet nationally-defined targets for WASH services.

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The national targets are often based on access to basic infrastructure but may not provide continuously safe and reliable services. In order to achieve the far more ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, more investment is badly needed.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the SDGs – a series of aspirational targets for eradicating poverty and boosting human well-being, including vowing to ensure universal access to safe and affordable water and sanitation by 2030.

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UN Sustainable Development Goals. Source: UN

In order to reach this lofty target, the World Bank estimates investments in infrastructure need to triple to US$ 114 billion per year – a figure which does not include operating and maintenance costs.

While the funding gap is vast, WHO is still hopeful the world will rise to the challenge. 147 countries have previously demonstrated the ability to mobilize the resources required to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without an improved source of water, and 95 met the corresponding target for sanitation. The SDGs will require “collective, coordinated and innovative efforts” WHO says. Even higher levels of funding will be needed, and from all sources including taxes, tariffs (payments and labour from households), and transfers from donors.

“This is a challenge we have the ability to solve,” says Guy Ryder, Chair of UN-Water and Director-General of the International Labour Organization. “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.”

-Reuters