Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade: Record Progress in Early 1980s

UN Chronicle, May 1985 | Go to article overview

Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade: Record Progress in Early 1980s


Drinking water and sanitation decade: record progress in early 1980s

Safe drinking water was provided for an estimated 345 million people in developing countries from 1980 to 1983, surpassing the record set during the entire period of the 1970s, according to a United Nations report on "Progress in the attainment of the goals of International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade."

The report (A/40/108-E/1985/49), a mid-Decade evaluation of progress achieved since the Decade was launched in 1980, will be considered later this year by the General Assembly. It notes almost 140 million rural and urban dwellers benefited from newly installed sanitation facilities, a prerequisite to improved health in most developing countries. An estimated 530 million additional people will receive reasonable access to safe drinking water and some 86 million people will receive adequate sanitation services by the end of 1985.

Despite these advances, some 1,200 million people remain without safe water and some 1,900 million without adequate sanitation in the developing world. National, international and grassroots action on many fronts is needed to plan, design, construct, operate and maintain the services they require.

Unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are responsible for 83 per cent of all human illness and disease, as well as heavy losses in productivity. Thus, clean water and adequate sanitation for all is the central goal of the Decade--an international education and action campaign involving 100 Governments in developing countries, donor Governments in developed countries, 12 United Nations system organizatisons and dozens of non-governmental organizations.

In spite of formidable economic organizational and technological obstacles, measurable progress has been made throughout the developing world in extending drinking water and sanitation services to both urban and rural populations.

Water supply. The latest World Health Organization estimates reveal that about 255 million rural dwellers in over 120 developing countries received safe drinking water during the first three years of the 1980s. This 14 per cent increase in rural water services coverage surpasses the progress achieved throughout the entire decade of the 1970s. In urban areas, an estimated 90 million additional people were provided with safe water between 1980 and 1983--a rate of expansion which on a global basis kept pace with rapid population increases, though not in all regions.

Sanitation services. The greatest progress in sanitation services has been achieved in urban coverage. The percentage of total population served increased from 49 per cent in 1980 to 59 per cent in 1983--a dramatic reversal from the decline in coverage during the previous decade. While many developing countries have rural sanitation programmes underway, progress in service coverage was difficult to estimate because of unreliable statistics at the beginning of the decade.

Country action

The starting point towards achieving Decade goals is for each country to establish targets, plans and programmes through 1990 which match, as far as possible, the global goal of providing safe water supply and appropriate sanitation for all. According to WHO, the number of countries with comprehensive Decade plans approved, or in preparation, has increased dramatically from 9 in 1981 to 90 by the end of 1983. Of these, 76 countries have set specific service coverage targets in one or more subsectors--urban/rural water supply and urban/rural sanitation.

Isntitutional problems remain key constraint to implementing Decade strategies in developing countries, according to the report. Since the beginning of the Decade, many Governments have carried out reforms to strengthen sector institutions and achieve better co-ordination in planning and management. These changes include creation of special government units to deal with water and sanitation problems, decentralizing authority for programmes to regional and local levels, and training programmes to meet the human resource requirements for the Decade. …

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Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade: Record Progress in Early 1980s
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