Leave No One Behind? Over Two Billion People Lack Access to Safely Managed Water

Over Two Billion People Lack Access to Safely Managed Water
17 Jul 2017

On 11th July 2017, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) published the latest Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene; allowing us to track our progress against the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. According to the report, 2.1 billion people lack safely managed water at home; over twice as many lack safely managed sanitation.

Whilst the report aims to provide an overview of each nation’s progress, in 2017 many countries had missing data. In fact, in this report, 65% of the global population had missing data on safely managed water. This could be due to a number of reasons such as a lack of data gathered or provided by governments, poor water quality as a result of extensive mining and industrial activities, polluting water bodies (ground and surface water) and the discharging of raw sewage into water bodies or the use of poorly constructed septic tanks, which pollutes underground water.

This year’s report has laid bare the challenges we face in the sector and also exposed its complexities. Whilst it is admirable to see the JMP report acknowledging the gaps in data, it is also worrying that two days after World Population Day (11th July), we are reading a report that excludes data on slum dwellers and informal urban settlements. This goes against the vision behind the SDGs; ‘leave no one behind’. The report has addressed this issue, stating that in future, they could liaise with ‘researcher agencies with special expertise (e.g. UN-Habitat) to explore new methods to characterise informal urban settlements and their water and sanitation services’. Such steps will be extremely positive and useful in the hope of achieving SDG 6. However, the JMP is yet to officially commit itself in taking such steps. It is important to note that UN-Habitat has gathered some data on urban slum dwellers in various cities around the world. Despite the data not offering a full representation of global trends and lacking options for country comparisons, it is a good foundation for the JMP to build on.

Considering the challenges of gathering data through household surveys, the JMP also ensures that changes should be made in order to measure and identify ‘inter-household inequalities such as sex, age or disability’. This data will be vital when identifying gaps amongst groups of people. For example, if there is a gap in access to sanitation among boys and girls, then organisations must place a greater emphasis on the importance of menstrual health management and its link to education.

The JMP report states these changes are medium/long term approaches. With the clock ticking on reaching the SDGs, we must all push for more rapid and immediate changes to the methods of data gathering. As the High Level Political Forum on SDG 6 is taking place in July 2018, we must ensure that real data is provided to represent all nations accurately.

Are we miles away from reaching our global goal?

On the one hand, the data provided by the JMP makes it clear that many countries will not be reaching the SDG 6 target by 2030. For example, Uganda’s six per cent coverage of safely managed water demonstrates that it will take the country approximately seven centuries to reach SDG 6. On the other hand, this report has set the bar higher for governments and non-governmental organisations, holding them accountable in terms of data gathering, provision and reporting as well as the overall achievement of such ambitious goals. Here is where the contribution(s) of civil society organisations (CSOs) is crucial. In future, the JMP should turn to CSOs for support in lobbying governments and holding them to account for real data provision.

End Water Poverty (EWP) – a global civil society coalition that is working towards ending the water and sanitation crisis –  is one of many organisations, which appreciates the work of the JMP. According to EWP, in future when more data is collected, the global coverage figure of those who have access to safely managed water and sanitation will decrease. However, it is crucial to note that this potential decrease will be more representative of the world we live in today as opposed to extrapolated data. With the need to improve on data gathering and reporting methods, EWP makes the following recommendations:

  • Proactively engage more institutions such as the UN-Habitat to provide and use their data on slum dwellers for this report.
  • Proactively reach out to service providers (governments and non-governmental organisations) to use the criteria for safely managed services when building new infrastructure.
  • Increase the scale of investment in order to meet such ambitious goals. We urge governments to use their tax policies to increase domestic resource mobilisation as a key source of finance

As a global community, we have the responsibility to move forward, not backwards. For a better and fairer world for future generations, we must take drastic steps today. The JMP report should be used as a tool to improve on and fill in any existing data gaps.

Click here to read more on EWP’s recommendations

Author: Kiana Alavi, Engagement Officer at End Water Poverty