The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN-Water have sounded the alarm for an urgent increase in investment in strong drinking-water and sanitation systems.
The call came as the international water sector meets in Stockholm for its annual conference during World Water Week (25-30 August 2019).
It is triggered by a new report published by WHO on behalf of UN-Water that reveals that weak government systems and a lack of human resources and funds are jeopardizing the delivery of water and sanitation services in the world’s poorest countries – and undermining efforts to ensure health for all.
“Too many people lack access to reliable and safe drinking water, toilets and hand-washing facilities, putting them at risk of deadly infections and threatening progress in public health,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Water and sanitation systems don’t just improve health and save lives, they are a critical part of building more stable, secure and prosperous societies. We call on all countries that lack essential water and sanitation infrastructure to allocate funds and human resources to build and maintain it.”
The UN-Water Global Assessment and Analysis of Sanitation and Drinking-Water 2019 (known as the GLAAS report) surveyed 115 countries and territories, representing 4.5 billion people. It showed that, in an overwhelming majority of countries, the implementation of water, sanitation and hygiene policies and plans is constrained by inadequate human and financial resources. Nineteen countries and one territory reported a funding gap of more than 60% between identified needs and available funding. Less than 15% of countries have the financial or human resources needed to implement their plans.
“If we are to create a healthier, more equitable and stable society, then strengthening the systems to reach those currently living without safe and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene services must be a top priority,” says Mr Gilbert F Houngbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. “While we need to ensure that there is sufficient funding to tackle these critical challenges, it is equally important to continue reinforcing national delivery systems.”
While funding gaps and weak systems are holding many countries back, the report also found that countries have begun to take positive steps towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation.
“The Sustainable Development Goals have inspired us to take concrete actions at the national level to increase access to sanitation,” says Mr David Molefha, Principal Water Engineer at the Ministry of Land Management Water and Sanitation Services in Botswana. “We have developed a sanitation roadmap and are working to eliminate open defecation. With these actions, we are working to improve peoples’ lives.”
About half of the countries surveyed have now set drinking-water targets that aim for universal coverage at levels higher than basic services by 2030, for example by addressing water quality and increasing access to water on premises. In addition, specifically targeting open defecation will have a dramatic impact on public and environmental health.
As the international authority on public health and water, sanitation and hygiene, WHO gathers scientific evidence, sets and monitors standards, and promotes best policies and practices for ensuring safe, reliable water, sanitation and hygiene for all people.