Does Global Progress on Sanitation Really Lag behind Water?

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  • F H Mughal
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Does Global Progress on Sanitation Really Lag behind Water?

While, in theory, water and sanitation go hand in hand, in practice, sanitation coverage lags behind water to a significant level. This could be true for the rural areas in poor developing countries. In the rural areas of Pakistan, however, this is 100% true.

The main reason for this is that, the sanitation sector receives low priority in government circles. Water sector is given importance by the development departments and the politicians. As a result, the sanitation coverage is low in the rural areas, relative to water sector.

With that being said, Oliver Cumming, Mark Elliott, Alycia Overbo, and Jamie Bartram have authored an exciting paper titled: Does Global Progress on Sanitation Really Lag behind Water? An Analysis of Global Progress on Community- and Household-Level Access to Safe Water and Sanitation, published on 11 Dec 2014 (attached).

The abstract reads:

“Safe drinking water and sanitation are important determinants of human health and wellbeing and have recently been declared human rights by the international community. Increased access to both were included in the Millennium Development Goals under a single dedicated target for 2015. This target was reached in 2010 for water but sanitation will fall short; however, there is an important difference in the benchmarks used for assessing global access. For drinking water the benchmark is community-level access whilst for sanitation it is household-level access, so a pit latrine shared between households does not count toward the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target. We estimated global progress for water and sanitation under two scenarios: with equivalent household- and community-level benchmarks. Our results demonstrate that the ‘‘sanitation deficit’’ is apparent only when household-level sanitation access is contrasted with community-level water access. When equivalent benchmarks are used for water and sanitation, the global deficit is as great for water as it is for sanitation, and sanitation progress in the MDG-period (1990–2015) outstrips that in water. As both drinking water and sanitation access yield greater benefits at the household-level than at the community-level, we conclude that any post–2015 goals should consider a household-level benchmark for both.”

Some of the interesting points from the abstract are: Under MDGs, the benchmark for drinking water is access at community-level, while for sanitation it is household-level access. It makes sense that the benchmark for water should have been the access at household level. Perhaps, the community-level access was due to the incorporation of large percentage of rural population having access to water through community wells.

The authors further say: “the ‘‘sanitation deficit’’ is apparent only when household-level sanitation access is contrasted with community-level water access. When equivalent benchmarks are used for water and sanitation, the global deficit is as great for water as it is for sanitation, and sanitation progress in the MDG-period (1990–2015) outstrips that in water.”

This means that, for equivalent benchmarks, the sanitation progress outstrips that of water. While these findings of the authors are fascinating, the aspect of sanitation progress having outstripped that of water, seems to be in contrast with the sanitation scenario in the rural areas in developing countries, principally in Pakistan, unless I’m missing some point.

F H Mughal
F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Does Global Progress on Sanitation Really Lag behind Water?

This is basically just "playing" with numbers and statistics (as one could argue is most of the MDG discussion).

In most situations neither community water (shared handpumps) nor sanitation access is adequate for the commonly agreed on health targets. But community water access is easier to get funded and usually the demand for it is also higher.

But besides starting another round of slightly tireing MDG discussions did you have anything specific in mind when starting this thread? To advance the situation in rural Pakistan the MDG process is not what I would look at ;)
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