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Drinking Water Access Increases with U.S., International Programs
March 12, 2012

A young girl in a flowered dress pumping water
A Ghanaian child pumps water from a well constructed by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, a long-time partner helping to implement USAID-funded programs.

More than 2 billion people worldwide gained new access to improved drinking water sources between 1990 and 2010, according to a report issued by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). This is an achievement that also fulfills a Millennium Development Goal (MDG), that the number of people lacking clean water be cut in half by 2015.

“We recognize a great achievement for the people of the world,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon March 6 upon release of Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012. “The successful efforts to provide greater access to drinking water are a testament to all who see the MDGs not as a dream, but as a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.”

At the end of 2010, 89 percent of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, according to the progress report. That number exceeds the MDG target by 1 percentBy 2015, the report estimates, 92 percent of the global population will have access to improved drinking water.

“Better water, sanitation and hygiene are key to improving human health and development,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “Today, even with this exciting new progress, almost 10 percent of all diseases are still linked to poor water, sanitation and hygiene.”

A separate MDG goal aspires to deliver sanitation to 75 percent of the world population by the 2015 target date. Progress on that front has been slower, the report finds, with improved sanitation access available to only 63 percent of the world. That means 2.5 billion people still lack sanitation facilities, a challenge that remains to be met.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is among the international development agencies helping countries achieve MDGs. Working to promote water security and sustainability, USAID implements activities in four main categories, including water supply, sanitation, and hygiene; water resources management; water productivity; and disaster risk reduction.

U.S. international development policy on water is also guided by the Water for Poor Act, which makes access to safe water and sanitation a policy objective of the U.S. foreign assistance programs. The purposes of assistance authorized by this law are to “promote good health, economic development, poverty reduction, women’s empowerment, conflict prevention and environmental sustainability by providing assistance to expand access to safe water and sanitation, promoting integrated water resource management, and improving hygiene for people around the world.”

Early in his administration, President Obama made clear his commitment to improve water access and other development goals. “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

The MDGs are eight goals for advancing quality of life worldwide, agreed upon by United Nations member states and international organizations. They include eradicating extreme poverty, which included the goal of extending clean water access to greater numbers of people; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing child mortality rates; improving maternal health; fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.