Road to 2030: World, especially Africa, won’t achieve access to clean water, sanitation goal, says UN

Sub-Saharan Africa region lags most & will need 20-21 fold increase in current rates of progress

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 07 July 2023
In two out of three of these households where clean water is not available on the premises, women are responsible for fetching water. Photo: iStock__

Halfway to the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 agreed upon in 2015, the world is not on track to achieving the target of universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all. 

Countries are also off-track on the target to ensure access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation, stated the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF in a new report released, July 6, 2023.

Since 2015, the coverage of safely managed drinking water has increased from 69-73 per cent. There has been progress in both rural and urban areas. But the rate of progress is slow and far from what is needed.

As a result, around 38 per cent of the population in rural areas do not have access to safe and affordable drinking water. In urban areas, 19 per cent of the population lacks access, according to the report. 

Globally, 2.2 billion people still lack safely managed drinking water. This includes 1.5 billion with basic services, 292 million with limited services, 296 million with unimproved and 115 million drinking surface water. 

So, achieving universal coverage to water by 2030 will require a six-fold increase in current rates of progress for safely managed drinking water, the global bodies wrote. 

Since 2015, coverage of safely managed sanitation increased from 49-57 per cent due to progress in the rural and urban areas.

But despite this, over 54 per cent of the population in rural areas do not have access to safely managed sanitation. In urban areas, 35 per cent people lack access to safe sanitation 

To ensure safe and accessible sanitation for all, the current rate of progress must increase five times. 

Sub-saharan Africa region lagging most

While none of the eight SDG regions is on track to achieve universal access to clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is behind all. 

In 2022, just 31 per cent of the population in SSA had safe drinking water in comparison to 73 per cent globally. When 57 per cent of the global population or 4.5 billion people used safely managed sanitation services, just 24  per cent of the population in SSA had access , data showed. 

The region is facing major challenges in moving ahead on these goals, showed the recently released Sustainable Development Report, 2023

As many as 24 countries of the region, along with four Asian countries, are among the 28 low-income countries, where achieving the targets SDG 6.1 and SDG 6.2 by 2030 will require a dramatic acceleration in current rates of progress.

Achieving the two significant SDG targets in these countries will require current rates of progress to increase 20-fold for safely managed water. To ensure safe sanitation services for all by 2030, the current rates of progress need to increase by 21-fold, the UN agencies noted in the report.

Achieving gender equality must 

Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene will also contribute towards realising SDG goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, the authors of the report stated.

For the first-time, the report has a special focus on gender to reflect the links between access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, gender equality and women empowerment. The report showed how addressing gender inequalities can accelerate progress on WASH. 

Gender equality, a fundamental human right, lays the foundation for a just and sustainable world. But the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, flagged the report. 

Globally, 16 per cent of the population or 1.8 billion people live in households where water is collected from sources located off premises (both improved and unimproved), it said.

In two out of three of these households (63 per cent), women are primarily responsible for carrying water. Thus, the burden associated with not having water on premises disproportionately impacts women and girls.

Close to 45 per cent of the 1.2 billion people in SSA still rely on water collection and women are four times as likely as men to fetch water, stated WHO and UNICEF in the report.

The report released ahead of the 2023 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development provides significant insights for the leaders who will review progress on clean water and sanitation from July 10-19, 2023 at New York.

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