In 2000 the world pledged that half the 2.6 billion people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation would have access to these basic facilities by 2015, but poor countries will need US$18.4 billion more a year to reach this Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which at this rate will only be met in 2200.
In 1997, eight percent of overall development aid went to water and sanitation; in 2008 this dropped to just five percent - less than commitments for health, education, transport, energy and agriculture, according to the Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) report by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The UK Department for Interantional Development, committed just 2.7 percent of funding to the sector in 2008-2009.
Moreover, the bulk of this global aid went to middle-income countries, with low-income countries receiving just 42 percent, said WaterAid, an international NGO working to provide access to clean water, sanitation and health education.
"The slow progress donors are making globally is holding back progress on all the Millennium Development Goals, including child mortality and attendance of girls in primary school," WaterAid policy head Henry Northover told IRIN.
"Sanitation is the development intervention that brings greatest public health returns, but you would be hard-pressed to find a single donor that prioritizes sanitation to low-income countries."
Poor people in Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria and Cameroon usually list clean water as their top priority in poverty assessments. "We suspect that part of the reason the poor are not being heard when they are consistently putting water first, is because it is women who disproportionately bear the burden [of fetching water each day], and whose voices are often drowned out," Northover said.
On 22 April ministers and policy-makers from 30 countries will attend the first "High Level Meeting" on water and sanitation in Washington in the US, where they will discuss the financial and political action needed to speed up water and sanitation supply.
NGOs will call on governments to reverse current water and sanitation targeting so that 70 percent of water aid goes to low-income countries, and that they join the "Sanitation and Water for All" initiative, launched on 23 April by governments, multilateral banks, UN agencies and NGOs working on water and sanitation to improve poor performance in the sector.
A donor representative, who did not wish to be named, told IRIN that "the challenge is to make sure the focus is on the poorest countries, as the current percentage is not high enough. We could all do better to target our resources."
Why not keen to date
The lack of engagement by donors was "symptomatic of a larger problem in the aid system", Northover told IRIN. "Donors herd funding around disease or development areas that are often led by their own preference rather than by evidence or what the poor are saying is important."
One factor that may explain why middle-income countries receive most of the aid is because they have more capacity to absorb it, said Northover.
Northover noted that the governments of developing countries often did not prioritize water and sanitation, but this could be because they aligned their priorities with what they perceived to be donors'. However, the donor representative said funders were changing their approach, and aid to the sector is now rising.
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