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News Article

Lack of Access to Clean Water Threatens Public Health

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 07/06/2021 - 17:04

Water scarcity is a crisis of today and tomorrow. A new report by WHO and UNICEF on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene highlights that about 2 billion people, or 25 percent of the world's population, still do not have access to safe drinking water.

Good health is the essence of development and water plays a key role in health, explains WHO. Access to water contributes to health directly through food and indirectly as a means of maintaining a healthy, diverse environment. Moreover, COVID-19 highlighted the urgent need to ensure that everyone has access to the means for proper hand hygiene. When the pandemic began, three out of 10 people in the world were unable to wash their hands with soap and water at home. However, water is often taken for granted by wealthier countries, which prioritize disease transmission over health protection.

WHO’s report tracked 20 years of significant achievements and downfalls in increasing access to water. During that period, the number of people without access to safe drinking water services decreased by 193 million. However, while rural areas saw this number decrease by 225 million people, in urban areas the number increased by 32 million.

The percentage of individuals with access to safely managed sanitation services increased from 47 percent to 54 percent, with rural coverage increasing from 36 percent to 44 percent and urban coverage from 57 percent to 62 percent. Regarding hygiene, the percentage of people with access to basic handwashing facilities at home that include soap and water increased from 67 percent to 71 percent.

The report also introduced a novel indicator: menstrual health. The global database was expanded to include emerging data on:

  • Awareness of menstruation before menarche (first menstruation).
  • Use of specialized supplies to capture and contain menstrual blood, such as pads, cloths, tampons or cups. These can be grouped into single-use and reusable materials.
  • Access to a private place to wash and change while at home.
  • Participation in activities during menstruation, such as school, work and social activities.

WHO collected data regarding menstrual health from 42 countries, 29 of which provided information on at least three of the indicators. Nearly half (19) of those countries were from the sub-Saharan Africa, and the majority were either low-income (13) or lower-middle-income countries (18).

Poor Access to Water in Mexico

Mexico was ranked at the bottom of surveyed countries in Latin America and the Caribbean regarding safely managed drinking water services, as the country achieved only 43 percent of the coverage in 2020. However, the country ranked high in access to water sources free from contamination, with 60 percent. Mexico was ranked in third place among Latin American and the Caribbean countries in access to safely managed sanitation services, with 57 percent coverage. The percentage of availability to handwashing facilities in rural areas was also high with over 85 percent. The country does not have enough data regarding menstrual health. Mexico has begun to track health and hygiene data only recently, reads the report, as the only available survey was from 2015.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst