On World Water Day–millions still lack access to safe drinking water

As the world celebrates World Water Day today, UNICEF urges everyone to remember that behind the statistics are the faces of children.

NEW YORK (March 22, 2012) — As the world commemorates World Water Day, UNICEF called on governments to pay particular attention to those living in rural areas who are being left behind in their countries’ progress, especially with regard to access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Two weeks ago a UNICEF and World Health Organization report showed conclusively that poor people in rural areas are lacking these most basic necessities for life.

"Governments must make sure that their resources achieve real results for the poorest people," said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF’s chief of water, sanitation and hygiene. "Otherwise they risk leaving large portions of their populations, particularly children, increasingly vulnerable to disease."

The report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012, says the world met the Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water at the end of 2010, when 89% of the world's population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources.

However, it says that rural dwellers are several times more likely than their urban counterparts to be without access to safe drinking water. According to the report, globally there is an almost universal disparity of access to safe drinking water in rural areas compared to urban areas.

Of the 783 million people still without improved sources of drinking water in 2010, 653 million are from rural areas. The picture even worse for sanitation, where globally, 79% of the urban population uses an improved sanitation facility compared to 47% of the rural population. Some 72% of those without access to improved sanitation, or 1.8 billion people, live in rural areas.

UNICEF says the rural-urban divide for safe drinking water is particularly acute in poorer countries. In sub-Saharan Africa the gap between urban and rural is 34 percentage points. On average in Least Developed Countries, 97 out of every 100 rural dwellers do not have piped water on premises. 

Overwhelmingly, it is women and girls who are bearing the brunt of the water burden, UNICEF says. Surveys conducted in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that in 71% of all households without water on the premises, women or girls are mainly responsible for water collection. Each household typically requires at least one trip a day, and often more, for water collection. It is estimated that women spend a combined total of at least 16 million hours each day collecting drinking water; men spend six million hours; and children, four million hours.

"Safe drinking water must reach everyone", says Wijesekera. "We cannot celebrate progress until those who are hardest to reach can also turn on a tap, or go to a well or pump and get enough safe drinking water for their daily needs."


UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. But still, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org