WITH 87percent of the world's population - or approximately 5,9billion people - using safe drinking-water sources, the world is on track to meet or even exceed the drinking water target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This according to the new WHO-Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report titled Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water - 2010 Update Report.
But with almost 39percent of the world's population living without improved sanitation facilities, the report also points out that much more needs to be done to come close to the MDG sanitation target.
If the current trend continues unchanged, the international community will miss the 2015 sanitation MDG by almost one billion people.
The good news is that open defecation - the riskiest sanitation practice of all - is on the decline worldwide, with a global decrease from 25percent in 1990 to 17percent in 2008, representing a decrease of 168million people practicing open defecation since 1990.
But this practice is still widespread in Southern Asia, where an estimated 44percent of the population defecate in the open.
"We all recognise the vital importance of water and sanitation to human health and wellbeing and their role as an engine of development.
"The question now lies in how to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDG targets and most importantly how to leap a step further to ultimately achieve the vision of universal access," said Maria Neira, WHO director for the department of public health and environment.
This report provides the clearest picture to date of the current use of improved sanitation facilities and improved sources of drinking-water throughout the world.
The report is aimed at policy-makers, donors, governmental and nongovernmental agencies to decide what needs to be done and where to focus their efforts to achieve these goals.
"We need to not only focus on reaching the water and sanitation MDG targets but also on achieving them with equity, ensuring that the most vulnerable groups and those hard to reach share in the successes achieved elsewhere," said Tessa Wardlaw, Unicef chief of statistics and monitoring.
Despite the world population being almost equally divided between urban and rural dwellers, the vast majority without access to water and sanitation live in rural areas.
Seven out of 10 people without basic sanitation are rural inhabitants and more than eight out of 10 people without access to improved drinking- water sources live in rural areas.
A similar disparity is found between the poor and non-poor. A comparison between the richest and poorest 20percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa reveals that the richest are more than twice as likely to use an improved drinking-water source and almost five times more likely to use improved sanitation facilities.
"With only five more years to go until 2015, a major leap in efforts and investments in sanitation is needed today in order to have an impact by the time we carry out our end-of-MDG evaluation," said Robert Bos, WHO coordinator for water, sanitation, hygiene and health.
"With almost 884million people living without access to safe drinking-water and approximately three times that number lacking basic sanitation we must act now as one global community to ensure water and sanitation for all," said Clarissa Brocklehurst, Unicef chief of the water, sanitation and hygiene . - Health-e News