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More than one billion people still without toilets

Constructing latrines is cheaper than buying them, and saves communities $100 or more per toilet.
(UNICEF Cambodia)

Worldwide 1.1 billion people still relieve themselves outdoors, with eight out of 10 of them living in 10 countries, according to the most recent drinking-water and sanitation report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Other key facts from the report: Some 884 million people drink from unprotected springs, hand-dug wells or other unsafe water sources, and 29 million more urban dwellers relieve themselves outdoors now than 20 years ago.

To mark World Water Day IRIN draws from the report to offer a snapshot of water and sanitation data up to 2008.

Using household surveys, 152 censuses and 318 government-reports, the report estimated 2.6 billion people still rely on buckets in the bush for hygiene.

Even if countries meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of their population without basic sanitation by 2015, there would still be 1.7 billion people worldwide without basic sanitation, according to the report.

Drinking water sources

Piped household connectionUnprotected dug well
Public standpipeUnprotected spring
BoreholeSurface water (river, dam, lake, pond)
Protected dug wellVendor-provided water from carts, tanks, trucks bottled water from unknown sources
Protected spring 
Rainwater collection 

“Improved” sources of drinking water include piped water into the home or yard, a public tap, a borehole, a protected spring or well, and rainwater.

Anyone who reported drinking from unprotected wells or springs, a cart or open drum, a tanker-truck, a river, or bottled water of unknown origin is counted as someone without access to safe drinking water.

Improved sanitation means a composting or flushing toilet; piped sewer systems, septic tanks, or latrines with open ventilation or concrete slabs.

Unimproved sanitation would be a non-flushing toilet, bucket, a tin shack on stilts, a simple hole in the ground or no facilities.

More key facts

  • 1.3 billion more people can access improved sanitation, compared to 1990
  • Almost eight out of 10 people without access to both clean water and safe toilets live in rural areas; most are in Southern Asia
  • Southeast Asia had the largest percentage increase of people using improved sanitation from 1990-2008
  • A lower percentage of the population in Oceania (including Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands) had access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation in 2008 than in 1990
  • MDG goal achievement largely depends on China and India, which together account for 47 percent of the 1.8 billion people who gained access to safe drinking water, and 38 percent of the 1.3 billion who accessed improved sanitation from 1990 to 2008
  • Urban dwellers gaining access to improved drinking water are not keeping up with population growth. From 1990-2008, cities grew by 37 million more people than the number of people who gained access to improved drinking-water sources in cities
  • Of the 1.1 billion people reported to relieve themselves outdoors, 638 million live in India, followed by 58 million in Indonesia, and 50 million in China. Because of population growth, the percentage of people recorded as practicing “open defecation” decreased by 25 percent, even though the actual number of people in this category increased by 36 million
  • Five percent of the rural population versus 35 percent of urban dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa have piped water in their homes
  • Children in 12 percent of surveyed households collect water for their families, with girls under 15 twice as likely as boys to be the main fetchers
  • More than a quarter of the population in several sub-Saharan African countries spend at least 30 minutes a day collecting water


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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