There have been significant improvements worldwide in terms of making basic water and sanitation access available, a new report found on World Toilet Day. But large gaps in funding continue to slow progress, and rural communities in the developing world are bearing the brunt of the consequences.
The UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water, or GLAAS 2014, reports that more than 80 percent of surveyed countries claim they have national policies in place for drinking water and sanitation standards, according to a press release by the World Health Organization (WHO), and over 75 percent have similar policies regarding hygiene.
"Water and sanitation are essential to human health," Dr. Maria Neira, director of the WHO Department of Public Health and the Environment, said in a press release. "Political commitment to ensure universal access to these vital services is at an all-time high. International aid for the sector is on the rise. But we continue to see major financial gaps at the country level, particularly in rural areas."
Those financial gaps are making it more difficult for governments to reach their goals. GLAAS 2014 discovered 80 percent of the 94 countries surveyed will not meet their current water and sanitation targets if current levels of funding remain. Building sanitation systems that are accessible to rural communities also remains a challenge, and a lack of proper monitoring and regulating of sanitation plans have hampered progress, WHO reports.
Having sanitation standards not only benefits a community's overall health, it has lasting economic advantages as well. A 2006 study found that inadequate sanitation in India amounted to a loss equivalent to roughly 6.4 percent of the country's GDP, The Jakarta Post reported, and those losses end up affecting those living in poverty the most.
"The rich have much greater access in all areas, while 70 percent of people without improved sanitation and 90 percent of people practicing open defecation live in rural areas," Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO's southeast Asia regional director, told the outlet.
The U.N. estimates that 1 billion people still practice open defecation, Reuters reported in May, and the practice can lead to the spread of fatal diseases. While open defecation is actually increasing in some sub-Saharan African countries, progress has been made globally: 1.3 billion were forced to practice open defecation in 1990.
To learn more about World Toilet Day, visit the United Nations' website.