WHO report reveals major gaps in water and sanitation in rural areas

© Dieter Telemans

Today, as much as 2.5 billion people around the world lack access to basic sanitation services. About 748 people do not have ready access to drinking-water. Global efforts to provide drinking-water and improved sanitation for everyone are gaining momentum, but serious gaps in funding continue to hamper progress. This is pointed out by the new GLAAS 2014 report on behalf of UN-Water (UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water). It presents data from 94 countries and offers a thorough analysis of strengths and challenges in water and sanitation services in developing countries. 

Strengthened political commitment

Michel Jarraud, Chair of UN-Water, mentioned political commitment as the key to improved drinking-water and sanitation services in developing countries. Water and sanitation must be clear priorities on the political agendas around the world to create a future that allows everyone to live healthy and prosperous lives. Two thirds of the 94 countries surveyed recognized access to drinking-water and sanitation as a universal human right in national legislation. Therefore a large number of developing countries have national policies in place. International aid for drinking-water and sanitation facilities is on the rise. Financial commitment for water and sanitation increased by 30% between 2010 and 2012, from 8.3 billion dollar to 10.9 billon dollar.

Key challenges

Nevertheless the current financial aid does not allow to provide drinking-water and basic sanitation services for everyone. As much as 80% of the countries surveyed reported that present levels of financing are insufficient to meet their targets for drinking-water and sanitation. Even though international aid for drinking-water and sanitation is on the rise, the bulk of financing continues to benefit urban residents. Yet drinking-water and sanitation facilities are more deficient in rural areas. Nowadays national expenditures for improved water and sanitation in rural areas comprise only 10% of the total financing for water and sanitation.

The report also reveals a critical need for improvement at the policy level. Fewer than one third of the countries surveyed have nationals plans for water and sanitation that are being fully implemented and evaluated. Schools and hospitals in particular are in need of basic sanitation services. However, less than 30% of the countries surveyed have national policies in place for institutional settings. Deficient national policies in water and sanitation lead to a lack of reliable data to assess the current situation. Yet those data are vital to identify gaps in drinking-water and sanitation services in particular rural areas.

Investments pay off

Hundreds of millions of people around the world do not have clean water at their disposal to clean themselves. As a result life-threatening water-borne diseases, such as cholera and hepatitis, are prone to explosive outbreaks. Investments in drinking-water and sanitation yield substantial benefits across many sectors. Inhabitants of developing countries would live longer and healthier lives. This would reduce health care costs for the individual, as well as for society. Furthermore our land resources would be less affected. This goes to show that financial and political commitment play a crucial role in improving drinking-water and sanitation services in developing countries.


  • Resume: Elke De Beir
  • Source: WHO