International Community Lags Behind MDG Target on Improved Sanitation

Ahead of the international observance of World Toilet Day on Saturday (Nov. 19), the United Nations and several non-governmental organizations paint a grim picture of where the world stands in terms of improving sanitation conditions in the developing world.

U.N. Water chair Zafar Adeel said in an interview with BBC that the situation is worse now than in 2000, when leaders outlined the eight Millennium Development Goals, which include a target on reducing “by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.”

BBC notes the estimated number of people without access to proper sanitation increased to 2.6 billion in 2008 from 2.5 billion in 2006.

“The main difficulty has been that many of the governments and funding agencies have not been fully convinced of the value of investing in sanitation as a basic fundamental service,” Adeel said, according to BBC.

A report by U.K.-based NGO WaterAid also identifies access to sanitation as the most off track of all targets related to the MDGs. The report says the target “will not be met for two centuries” given current trends.

“In developing countries, spending on water, sanitation and hygiene services is minimal compared to health and education, and the share of aid flows going to water and sanitation has fallen over the last 15 years,” the report observes.

WaterAid also laid out recommendations on how to accelerate progress to meet this target: increase resource allocations, strengthen program planning, improve targeting of investments to prioritize countries that need them the most, and ensure sustainability of these investments.

The group said countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are among those with the worst sanitation conditions in the world.

Meanwhile, a senior researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute attempts to explain why donors and developing countries alike appear to shy away from the issue, explaining that may people find it a distasteful topic to discuss.

“The average person has difficulty discussing the topic and this will remain so without a doubt – without the public dialogue, sanitation will remain dysfunctional, undeveloped and underfunded in most of the world,” Arno Rosemarin said, as quoted by Reuters.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.