Failure to meet United Nations sanitation target could affect millions of the world's poorest

Worldwide, billions of people lack access to a reliable source of safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities. To address the problem, the United Nations established the Target 10 initiative, which aims to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

Target 10 was launched in 2000 as part of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals initiative, a global effort by member nations "to meet the needs of the world's poorest." The target is based on data from 1990, when 20 percent of the global population lacked a safe source of drinking water and 45 percent had no access to sanitation facilities. Now, halfway to the deadline, experts warn that the United Nations is on track to achieve only part of the Target 10 objective.

"The target of reducing to one-half the proportion of people who do not have access to improved water supplies will probably be met," said Jennifer "Jenna" Davis, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and a fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. "[But] on the sanitation side, we're in big trouble. We're probably going to miss that goal by 500 million people."

Sanitation, the 'poor cousin'

Today, more than 1 billion people worldwide live without a safe drinking water supply and more than 2.5 billion people don't have basic hygiene facilities, according to the United Nations. Davis, a participant in the U.N. Millennium Project task force, attributed the lack of success in reaching the sanitation target to a myriad of reasons, starting at the level of the individual. "If you have a lack of resources and you have to decide whether to invest in having clean water or in having sanitation facilities, you're going to be going for the water," she said. "It's a rational prioritization in the short term. Everyone can figure out a place to defecate if forced to do so."

Politics also has contri

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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