Access to sanitation

Sanitation levels is a strong indicator of any communities’ state of human development. Despite global efforts to improve sanitation, major gaps – including financial – remain and are slowing progress…  If distributing water satisfies one’s needs, sanitation prevents detriments caused to others.

From the Millenium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals

In terms of sanitation, the Millenium Development Goals that aimed at dividing by half the share of global population deprived from basic sanitation by 2015 were not achieved. Given that the global population increased from 6 to 7 billion, the share of individuals who still do not have access to decent toilets remained about the same: about 2.5 billion – in other words: all of the poorest on our planet.

This remains a harsh assessment of sanitation progress, with only 7% decrease from 1990 and extremely low coverage levels: only 1 in 3 individuals in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, 1 in 2 in East Asia, 1 in 10 in Jakarta and Manilla. Sanitation is still left behind in developing countries public policies.

Coverage levels barely reached 67%, far below the 75% target set by the MDGs. Since 1990, 1.8 billion individuals managed to get access to improved sanitation facilities.

China and India represent almost half of global progress on sanitation. 593 million people in China and 251 million in India managed to get access to improved sanitation facilities since 1990. China makes up to 95% of all sanitation improvements in eastern Asia (Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN-DESA)

Most of global improvements were achiever in East and South Asia, whereas very slow progress happened in West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (UN-DESA)

In 2015, the United Nations adopted the new Sustainable Development Goals with, among 17 goals, one specific water and sanitation goal that aims to guarantee universal access to water and sanitation and to ensure a sustainable management of water resources by 2030. 2015 was a historical year for water and sanitation with this goal fully dedicated to achieveing results in this area. Now whether these strong ambitions will translate into tangible progress in 2030 is a different question…

Sanitation: a process in a whole decision-making chain

Sanitation must be considered as a process or a decision-making chain rather than the sum of isolated decisions taken without consultation. One must adopt a holistic perspective on the whole process, from the creation of the waste to its treatment and final release in the natural environment (be it a residual waste or not), and in compliance with technical, financial or social acceptability criteria. All of these facets must be taken as a whole. Social acceptability, a necessary and sufficient condition, matters just as much as the availability of funding, another necessary condition.

Read more on access to sanitation with the interview of Pierre-Frédéric Ténière-Buchot

(Re)sources' recommendations

Sanitation is intrinsically linked to the majority of the Millenium Development Goals, especially those dealing with environment, education, gender equality, child mortality reduction and poverty alleviation challenges. (Re)sources always maintained in its recommendations that:

  • Access to sanitation is one of the most neglected human needs although it touches upon a fundamental dimension of human dignity and an essential aspect of public health, of environmental protection and human development.
  • There is no sustainable safe drinking water project without adequate sanitation project.
  • Lack of sanitation is a real threat in an urbanizing world (“sanitary bomb”), especially in a context of climate change
  • Sanitation terminology must be clarified (“basic”, “total”, “adequate”, “improved” or even “dual-stream recycling”)




  • 2.5 billion people, half of the population in developing countries, still do not have access to toilets or to any other form of improved sanitation.
  • 1.2 billion people are practicing defecation in the open air.
  • The equipment of the schools in clean and safe toilet is a factor of school enrolment of girls.
  • The practice poses a risk to health associated with the spread of diseases, such as diarrhea, for whole communities.
  • The lack of access to sanitation cost the world $260 billion per year.
  • 7 People die each minute of unsafe water.
  • At the global level, 80% of wastewater are not processed.
  • On Each November 19th, the World Toilet Day is celebrated.
  • Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That's 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.
  • In developing countries, 70 percent of industrial waste is dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply.
  • Over 80 % of wastewater worldwide is not collected or treated, and urban settlements are the main source of pollution.
  • In 2030, 47% of world population will be living in areas of high water stress.







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Access to sanitation