Universal access to water and hygiene, a still distant goal

In the midst of a global pandemic, “barrier gestures” against the spread of Covid-19 remain beyond the reach of a large part of humanity. Three billion people cannot wash their hands at home due to lack of facilities; 1.4 billion have no access to water or soap.

Ten years after recognizing drinking water and sanitation as a fundamental human right, the United Nations Organization writes in a report published on Thursday 19 November, on the occasion of World Toilet Day, qu’« at the current rate of progress, sanitation for all will not be a reality until the twenty-second century ”. Universal access to water and hygiene in 2030, as the States have yet set the objective, is still a long way off.

According to 2017 figures (the latest updates), this project remains gigantic. Indeed, 2 billion people remain deprived of basic sanitary facilities (flush toilets, septic tanks, etc.); 4.2 billion people – nearly two out of three people in the world – live without being able to use a toilet, latrine or any equipment connected to any form of waste treatment; 673 million still defecate in the open.

Chronic underfunding

Other indicators call out in this report, which is “An urgent call to transform sanitation to improve health, the environment, economies and societies”. Thus, in the world, 367 million children attend schools which do not have toilets. More than 10% of health care establishments are in the same situation, which encourages women not to come and give birth in these structures. As for the tens of millions of refugees and forcibly displaced, barely a third (32%) have basic sanitation.

The consequences for human health and the environment are exorbitant. Each year, 830,000 people die from preventable water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A… Population growth partially explains this lack of clear progress. But if this essential question progresses only very slowly, it is also because the sector suffers from chronic underfunding.

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“According to the World Bank, it would take 115 billion euros per year between 2015 and 2030 to achieve universal access to water and sanitation, in other words, current investments should be multiplied by three”, says Céline Robert, head of the water and sanitation division at the French Development Agency (AFD). According to her, it is difficult to mobilize investors in this area:

“Water is a low risk sector but also low profitability and very long term. Energy, for example, is much more profitable financially. However, investing one euro in water has a ripple effect seven times greater in development, in diseases prevented, the environment improved… ”

The needs are enormous. AFD, for example, participated in the international cofinancing of 16 million euros for the Beit Lahiya wastewater treatment plant, located in the north of the Gaza Strip. This receives wastewater from 250,000 inhabitants, ie three times its capacity before the expansion works. It has happened to overflow to the point of forming a lake of 30 hectares, contaminating the water table.

“Not a political priority”

Building infrastructure is not the only line of action, because some regions of the world have a long history. Burkina Faso, for example, where the rate of access to basic sanitation services does not exceed 10% to 12%, has set itself the objective of building 2 million latrines in three regions of the country. AFD is providing € 6 million in reinforcement to encourage the population to equip themselves and create a local market, by means of loans and subsidies, as well as hygiene awareness. This mission is entrusted to GRET, an association of solidarity development professionals.

“Sanitation is the poor relation of the sector, it is less complicated to obtain financing for drinking water. Even at AFD, budgets are unbalanced, explains Sandra Métayer, coordinator of the Water Coalition, which brings together thirty associations specializing in these two sectors. It is not a political priority: difficult to campaign on such an unglamorous, even taboo subject. Many leaders consider it to be in the private sphere. ” It is all the more difficult to convince the authorities and donors that the population’s demand is quite low, because this equipment very often exceeds the capacities of households, and on the other hand, because the latter do not make the connection. with water-borne diseases.

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Progress has nevertheless been made in India and Ethiopia, but in this very particular period of health crisis, the Water Coalition wants to draw attention to the situation in France. “About 250,000 people live on the streets. It is estimated that in the slums and camps, 870,000 do not have access to a toilet, reports Sandra Métayer. In Guyana, 10% of people are not equipped at home, 47% in Mayotte. “

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