According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, which yesterday, September 5, published a report on clean water and sanitation around the world, 46 million Brazilians have no access to basic sanitation.
In 2000, Brazil and governments from other developing countries joined the Millennium Development Goals initiative and made the commitment to reduce in half by 2015 the number of people without clean water and sanitation.
Since 2005 the country reached the water goal, but things are not running that smoothly in the sanitation department. In 1990, only 71% of the population had basic sanitation at home. By 2005 this number had grown to 75%. At this rhythm, Brazil will not reach the 80% goal by 2015.
In water the story was different. 83% of Brazilians had running water in 1990 and the goal was to reach 88% percent by 2015. This goal was already surpassed in 2004 with 90% of Brazilians connected to water.
The Brazilian situation is worse in the country, where 2/3 of the population has no access to sanitation. In this area, nothing has changed since 1990.
WHO says that Brazil and the world are in danger of missing targets for providing sanitation unless there is a dramatic increase in the pace of work and investment between now and 2015.
More than 1.1 billion people in the world, in both urban and rural areas currently lack access to drinking water from an improved source and 2.6 billion people do not have access to even basic sanitation, the WHO report shows.
The health impact of this can be seen particularly in children. WHO estimates that in 2005, 1.6 million children under age 5 (an average of 4500 every day) died from the consequences of unsafe water and inadequate hygiene.
Children are particularly at risk from water-related diseases such as diarrheal and parasitic diseases. Lack of sanitation also increases the risk of outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and dysentery.
The populations of urban areas in the developing world are growing rapidly and, if the MDGs are to be met, a huge amount of work will have to be done simply to maintain the proportion of those living in cities with access to improved drinking water and adequate sanitation.
Currently, 95% of city dwellers have access to an improved source of drinking water, while 80% have access to sanitation services.
Meeting the water and sanitation targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be one of the most effective means of raising the health and general living standards of many of the world’s poor. But reaching the water and sanitation targets will require much greater efforts by policy makers, funding and training agencies, planning and construction.
These solutions must focus on poor and underserved people worldwide, WHO warns. According to the report, MDG Drinking Water and Sanitation Target – The Urban and Rural Challenge of the Decade, to meet the sanitation MDG will require a doubling of current efforts. A one-third increase in efforts will be needed to meet the MDG drinking water target.
"It is a tragedy that the world may not reach the water and sanitation MDGs. Safe drinking water and basic sanitation are so obviously essential to health that they risk being taken for granted," said Dr Anders Nordström, Acting Director-General of WHO.
"Efforts to prevent death from diarrhea and other diseases are doomed to failure unless people have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. This report underlines the importance of the new WHO strategy on public health and environment to radically reduce the global burden of disease through preventive health measures. Only by tackling the root causes of diseases such as water and sanitation can we reduce the 24% global burden of global disease caused by the environment."
Sub-Saharan Africa is still the main focus of concern. An estimated 80% of people without access to an improved drinking water source live in sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Asia and Southern Asia. Due to population growth over the period from 1990-2004, the number of people without access to drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 23%.
Currently, just 56% of the population has access to an improved water supply. Just 37% of people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to basic sanitation in 2004, compared to a global average of 59%.
In rural areas, access to an improved source of drinking water and to basic sanitation services was very low in 1990 (the baseline year for measuring the MDGs): only an estimated 64% had access to a drinking water source, while 26% had access to sanitation services. While those percentages rose substantially by 2004 – to 73% and 39% respectively – these numbers still fall way short of what is needed to achieve the MDGs.
From the report comes one example of a success story in terms of raising coverage. In Ethiopia, the Amhara region had a coverage rate for access to sanitation services of only 3.8% in 2003, and only 100 latrines were being constructed annually in each district.
In that year, the government initiated a social marketing campaign which increased community knowledge and understanding of sanitation and its linkages to health. Community demand for latrines sky-rocketed, and by 2005, the average number of latrines constructed per district was 26,400.