Over 250 crore people across the world lack access to improved sanitation, with nearly 120 crore practising open defecation, the riskiest sanitary practice of all. According to a report released jointly by World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, the poor sanitation situation is a big threat to children's survival as the faecal-contaminated environment is directly linked to diarrhoeal disease, one of the biggest killers of infants under the age of five.
The report is part of the WHO-UNICEF monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation-the official UN mechanism tasked with monitoring progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Target 7c on drinking water supply and sanitation. Worldwide, the number of people who lack access to an improved drinking water source that is protected from faecal and chemical contamination has fallen below one billion for the first time since data were first compiled in 1990.
According to the report, presently 87 per cent of the world population has access to improved drinking water sources, with current trends suggesting that more than 90 per cent will do so by 2015.The number of people practising open defecation dropped from 24 per cent in 1990 to 18 per cent in 2006. The report also highlights disparities within national borders, particularly between rural and urban dwellers. Worldwide, there are four times as many people in rural areas-approximately 74.6 crore-without improved water sources, compared to some 13.7 crore urban dwellers.
The report, however, said that the situation has improved with more people now using improved sanitation facilities, which ensures that human excreta is disposed of in a way that prevents them from causing disease by contaminating food and water sources. "Though the practice of open defecation is on the decline worldwide, 18 per cent of the world's population, over 120 crore people, still practise it, " the report said. In southern Asia, some 77.8 crore people still rely on this risky sanitation practice, it added.
The report, Progress on drinking water and sanitation-special focus on sanitation, that comes halfway through the International Year of Sanitation assesses-for the first time-global, regional and country progress using an innovative "ladder" concept. This shows sanitation practices in greater detail, enabling experts to highlight trends in using improved, shared and unimproved sanitation facilities and the trend in open defecation. "Improved sanitation" refers to any facility that hygienically separates human waste from the environment. Similarly, the 'drinking water ladder' shows the percentage of the world population that uses water piped into a dwelling, plot or yard, and other improved water sources such as hand pumps, and unimproved sources.