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Water, Sanitation Funding Decline As Share Of Overall Development Aid, WHO Report Finds

“Even as the world’s deadline for” reaching the “Millennium Development Goals (MDG) approaches in 2015, countries are not making water and sanitation a priority, which in turn impacts other developmental goals like health and education,” according to a WHO report released Wednesday, Press Trust International/Business Standard reports (4/22).

The U.N.-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) report found that between 1997 and 2008, aid commitments for sanitation and water dropped from 8 percent to 5 percent of total development aid, “lower than commitments for health, education, transport, energy and agriculture,” a WHO-UNICEF press release writes. The decrease in aid commitments “occurred despite compelling evidence that achieving the water and sanitation target of the [MDGs] would lower health-care costs, increase school attendance and boost productivity,” the release adds (4/21).

“Neglecting sanitation and drinking water is a strike against progress,” said Maria Neira, WHO director of public health and environment, during the launch of the GLAAS report in Washington on Wednesday, U.N. News Centre writes. “Without it, communities and countries will lose the battle against poverty and ill-health,” she added (4/21).

“Globally, about 900m people cannot access clean drinking water and 2.6bn cannot access sanitation, but aid is not being targeted to reach those with the greatest need,” the Financial Times reports. “Sixty of the world’s poorest countries receive only 42 percent of total water and sanitation aid and, once there, many lack the infrastructure to distribute it effectively. Only a small proportion tends to be devoted to providing basic services, where it would have the greatest impact” (Milton, 4/21).

According to Neira, an estimated 2.2 million children under the age of five die annually from health conditions resulting from unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene, with 1.5 million of these deaths caused by diarrheal disease, the WHO-UNICEF press release notes (4/21).

According to the study, “improved access to sanitation and water produces economic benefits that range from $3 to $34 per dollar invested, increasing a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by an estimated two per cent to seven per cent,” Press Trust International/Business Standard reports (4/22).

“Robert Bos, of the WHO Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health Unit, says when donors contribute to water and sanitation projects, they get their priorities wrong,” VOA News reports in an article about the GLAAS report. “In the context of water and sanitation, more money seems to be going to large-scale sophisticated piped water projects than into the community-based small-scale-bringing the essential safe water to these people who are in greatest needs,” Bos said. “In other words, those that already have some level of access, just jump higher on the ladder.  But, the ones that are at the bottom, stay where they are – at the bottom” (Schlein, 4/21). 

The findings of the GLAAS report will be presented at the first annual High-Level Meeting of Sanitation and Water for All in Washington on Friday, where international leaders and health experts will gather to “discuss challenges, share best practices and commit to bringing safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation to the unserved,” the WHO-UNICEF release notes. “The participants will focus on the UN-Water GLAAS recommendations: greater political prioritization for sanitation and drinking-water, better resource targeting, strengthening of systems, and development of stronger partnerships at all levels” (4/21).

In related news, Inter Press Service reports that “[a]n international coalition of over 120 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is demanding a North-South partnership to resolve the spreading global crisis in water and sanitation. As a first step, Western donors and national governments are being urged to form agreements in at least seven to 10 pilot countries to develop credible national plans, including a new pooled fund and enhanced technical support to develop capacity and planning systems.”

The coalition, comprised of such groups as “End Water Poverty, African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation, Global Call to Action Against Poverty, Freshwater Action Network, Oxfam and WaterAid” will present their proposals for improving global aid for water and sanitation to the ministerial meeting Friday (Deen/Lorentsson, 4/21).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.