UNITED NATIONS -- The world's nations achieved a U.N. goal of cutting in half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water five years ahead of the 2015 target, the United Nations announced Tuesday.
A report issued by the U.N. children's agency and the World Health Organization said over 2 billion people gained access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2010.
That means 89 percent of the world's population, or 6.1 billion people, had access to safe water sources at the end of 2010 – one percent more than the goal of 88 percent set by world leaders at the U.N. Millennium Summit in 2000, the report said.
But UNICEF and WHO said victory can't be declared because 783 million people – 11 percent of the global population – still have no ready access to safe drinking water.
The water target was one of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals to reduce global poverty that government leaders, nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations have been working to achieve, with varying success. Other goals include cutting in half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, ensuring that every child has an elementary school education, and halting and starting to reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the achievement of the clean water target, one of the first goals to be met, saying it will help improve the lives of millions of the world's poorest people.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that "providing sustainable access to improved drinking water sources is one of the most important things we can do to reduce disease."
"But this achievement today is only the beginning," she said in a statement. "We must continue to ensure this access remains safe. Otherwise our gains will be in vain."
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said meeting the goal is especially good news for children.
"Every day more than 3,000 children die from diarrheal diseases," he said in a statement. "Achieving this goal will go a long way to saving children's lives."
The report highlights the disparities between regions and countries, and within countries.
Only 61 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe drinking water sources compared with 90 percent or more in Latin America and the Caribbean, northern Africa, and large parts of Asia, the report said.
UNICEF and WHO called for greater attention to water and sanitation needs in rural areas across the globe where millions of poor people still have no access.
The report said the world is still far from meeting the U.N. goal of reducing by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation.
Only 63 percent of the world now has basic sanitation and the figure will increase to just 67 percent by 2015, well below the 75 percent required to reach the target, the report said.