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Photo: Ismail Younus, Sudan

Targets and challenges for water, sanitation and hygiene

22 March 2017
Author: Mansoor Ali

Improved access to clean water and sanitation is considered to be the most effective intervention to reduce disease burden on the world’s poorest people. Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is now accepted as a human right, and the Sustainable Development Goals have given greater attention to WASH than the Millennium Development Goals. 

The last decade has seen good progress towards improved WASH but an estimated 790 million people (11% of the world’s population) are still without access to a decent water supply. An estimated 1.8 billion people (25% of the world’s population) are without access to adequate sanitation.

Only 16% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa has a piped water supply at home, compared to 96% of Europeans. There is still a long way to go.

Providing WASH services to the increasing urban population living in informal settlements or slums is likely to be a major challenge. An estimated 1 billion people – half of the global urban population - now live in slum areas. The slum population is not only increasing, but it often faces other complex challenges such as land insecurity, high population density and violence. Many urban slums have poor waste collection and no drainage to protect from flooding. 

Improving rural WASH remains an important target, as the population living in remote rural areas and fragile regions remains isolated from the improved water and sanitation services in cities. Conflict, war and the internal displacement of people also adversely affect the situation, with essential infrastructure, such as water and sanitation facilities, often being damaged or neglected.

Recognising the importance of WASH to achieve social and economic development, many UK organisations are delivering programmes, conducting research, supporting knowledge and promoting learning. The UK is considered an important donor in supporting WASH with a commitment to reach more than 60 million people in the next 5 years.

Water and sanitation interventions deliver a high value on investment: they have been shown to produce economic benefits ranging from $5 to $46 per $1 invested, and are cost effective across all world regions.

The Bond UK WASH network group is an active advocacy and learning platform, reaching 195 members in March 2017.  The purpose of the network is to provide a forum where organisations can exchange knowledge, enhance their analysis and coordinate their advocacy towards the UK government and other relevant institutions on water, sanitation and hygiene issues. The network regularly arranges discussions and events and engages with DFID and other international donors. It lays the foundation of partnership and collaborative working and is considered as a model network on WASH issues in Europe. Find out more about the WASH group on My Bond.

About the author

Mansoor Ali

Dr Mansoor Ali is the co-chair of UK WASH Network and has more than 30 years of experience in WASH. His experience includes research, policy influencing, training and implementing projects in the development and emergency contexts.