Despite recent progress, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, while nearly 1.2 billion people defecate without sanitary facilities, posing a major health threat to their communities, according to a report released today by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).“At current trends, the world will fall short of the Millennium [Development Goals] sanitation target by more than 700 million people,” said Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. “Without dramatic improvements, much will be lost.”The report shows some progress in access to improved drinking water sources, with the number falling below one billion for the first time since data were first compiled in 1990. At present, 87 per cent of the world’s population can access improved water sources with the figure expected to rise to 90 per cent by 2015.The disparity between rural and urban communities is highlighted by the report. Rural dwellers without access to improved water sources outnumber their urban counterparts by four to one.In a related finding, the number of people defecating without sanitary facilities – a practice known as open defecation – has fallen from 24 per cent of the global population to 18 per cent in 2006. This remaining percentage includes some 778 million people in southern Asia.Both UN agencies point out that poor sanitation threatens children’s survival as a faecally-contaminated environment is directly linked to diarrhoeal disease, one of the biggest killers of children under the age of five.“We have today a full menu of low-cost technical options for the provision of sanitation in most settings,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director-General, said today. “More and more governments are determined to improve health by bringing water and sanitation to their poorest populations. If we want to break the stranglehold of poverty, and reap the benefits for health, we must address water and sanitation.”According to the report, seven of the ten countries that have made the most rapid progress and are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) drinking water target are in sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Namibia, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Mali and Djibouti. 17 July 2008Despite recent progress, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, while nearly 1.2 billion people defecate without sanitary facilities, posing a major health threat to their communities, according to a report released today by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).