World Water Day 2013: Ensuring universal access to water and sanitation

22 March 2013

Access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a universal human right and central to human wellbeing and development. Yet 780 million people still receive drinking water from unimproved sources and 2.5 billion people continue to live without access to improved sanitation facilities. The Knowledge, Society and Technology team's research on water and sanitation has been looking at what more needs to be done, particularly through a new set of post 2015 development goals, to ensure that this right is enjoyed by all.

World Water Day 2013: What’s missing in MDG7 for women and girls?

Universal access to water and sanitation is central to achieving global justice for women and girls. Better access to water and sanitation facilities can reduce poverty and provide immediate health benefits for women and girls as well as better educational and economic opportunities and life chances. As debates on the MDGs – and what comes after them - abound, World Water Day 2013 offers a timely opportunity to look at the MDG goal on water and sanitation and what it means for gender justice. In her latest blog post, IDS researcher Lyla Mehta reflects on water and sanitation targets, and achievements and barriers in working towards universal access for all.

UK parliamentarians discuss universal access

IDS co-hosted an event with the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Development and the Environment which brought together parliamentarians with representatives from the NGO and academic communities to discuss how we can accelerate progress towards universal access to water and sanitation. 

Some of the key points raised included:

  • Universal access to water and sanitation is central to making progress against all MDGs, not just the water and sanitation MDG.
  • The water part of the MDG target to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation was met in March 2012. However, this achievement does not refer to the quality of the water, for example, has there been an improvement in rates of diarrhoea? There is a also still a long way to go in terms of the sanitation target.
  • Current indicators for measuring access to water, sanitation and hygiene do not incorporate gender, equality and sustainability dimensions. They have also overlooked issues of power and social justice.
  • More attention needs to be paid to the gender dimension of water and sanitation.  Improvements in access to water and sanitation have a profound impact on the health, wealth and life opportunities for women and girls who often bear the brunt of the burden in terms of water collection and maintenance of sanitation facilities.  The issue of women and girls and managing menstruation is also still taboo and remains largely overlooked in the planning of sanitation and hygiene facilities.
  • Improvements in access to water and sanitation often do not reach the poorest and most vulnerable, and the needs of groups such as the elderly, the disabled, particular castes, women and children continues to be overlooked.
  • The needs of rural and peri-urban dwellers are often ignored. It is often unclear about where responsibility and accountability for the provision of water and sanitation services to these groups lies.
  • The realities on the ground about decision making and practical action in terms of water and sanitation services often differ greatly from global targets and frameworks.
  • More thought should be given to the maintenance and sustainability of newly built water and sanitation facilities. For example, whether local communities can afford the cost of maintaining facilities in the long term and what more needs to be done to improve capacities of all communities to save and allocate resources to pay for crucial maintenance.

Interview with Archana Patkar, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council

After the event, we interviewed panellist Archana Patkar from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and asked her to reflect on the progress that has been made so far to universal access and what more needs to be done. Listen to the audio: