More work needs to be done to improve and expand safe drinking water and other sanitation facilities
By Aoun Sahi
Pakistan, among other countries, has achieved one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing in half the number of its population without access to safe drinking water. That has happened five years ahead of the 2015 target.
A report issued by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation last week says that over 2 billion people gained access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2010, which means 89 percent of the world’s population has access to safe water source by end of 2010.
It is one percent more than the goal of 88 percent set at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000. According to JMP, Pakistan has achieved the target of providing safe drinking water source to 92 percent of its population by the end of 2010 while the target is to provide facility to 93 percent by 2015.
The target is achievable though there are still some areas that need to be looked further into. “News that the world has met the MDG target on water is a great encouragement. Good progress has been made on water in Pakistan, yet sustaining the water services and monitoring quality are the greater challenges in Pakistan”, says Abdul Hafeez, manager advocacy WaterAid, an international NGO dedicated exclusively to the provision of safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education, Pakistan.
This is a huge achievement for the world but it is only the beginning and still there is a lot of work to do to achieve the MDG on sanitation which the world is still far from meeting. According to report only 63 per cent of the world now has basic sanitation and the figure will increase to just 67 per cent by 2015, well below the 75 per cent required to reach the target. Globally, it is predicted, the MDG target on sanitation would not be reached until 2026. The situation in Pakistan even worse,
Pakistan’s sanitation target under MDGs is 67 percent and currently only 48 percent people are using improved sanitation. Progress to achieve sanitation targets in the last two years has been very slow in Pakistan with only 1.5 percent increase per year. With this rate of progress it will take more than ten years to achieve MDGs and 34 years to provide access to 100 percent population. In Pakistan, 14 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water and over 90 million are without improved sanitation.
“The state of sanitation is of even greater concern. It is highly unacceptable that 40 million people nearly one fourth of the population in Pakistan practice open defecation which is a violation of their right to live with dignity,” he says, adding, “We are calling on the government of Pakistan to strengthen and clarify institutional roles for implementing sanitation programmes, expedite reform process at provincial level to prepare time bound action plan to translate policies into real actions.
He calls upon the federal and provincial governments “to prepare a programme to target un-served and excluded people and fulfill commitments made at the 2011 South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN)”.
Hafeez informs that new figures have revealed that South Asia as a region is facing an even more daunting challenge in sanitation. The target for providing access to sanitation, which is even more crucial in tackling killer diseases in developing countries, is one of the most off track of all the MDG targets. Over a billion people in South Asia do not yet have access and the region has the highest proportion of people (67 percent or 690 million) still practicing open defecation.
“Despite several commitments,” he says, “South Asia is lagging behind other regions in sanitation. This is an affront to citizens’ rights. We need a better monitoring mechanism to improve sector governance and bring the required accountability to ensure that programmes and policies are delivering and governments are reaching people with the greatest need. We are calling for effective regional cooperation to address this challenge through governments targeting the un-served and proactively engaging in the existing regional and global mechanisms, such as SAARC, SACOSAN and (SWA)”.
Pakistan has been bearing a huge cost due to lack of improved sanitation facilities. According to WHO, 52000 children die annually due to diarrhea in Pakistan. The World Bank Strategic Environmental Assessment for Pakistan estimates the total healthcare cost of diarrhea and typhoid, both water and sanitation related diseases, to be Rs112 billion (US$1.33 billion), or 1.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The problem is prevalent in underdeveloped urban areas and a majority of rural areas of the country as 72 percent urban population has reach to improved sanitation while the number is only 34 percent for rural areas. Pakistan will be attending the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High Level Meeting next month to take stock of progress made since 2010 in the sector. Pakistan needs to spend more on sanitation from domestic resources and politically prioritize sanitation in development programmes.
Experts believe that there is discrimination in Pakistan with regard to budget allocations for sanitation schemes and municipal services in urban and rural areas. “More than 85 percent of sanitation and solid waste management budget is used in big cities” says Nazir Wattoo, Chairman Anjuman Samaji Behbood, Faisalabad and member Water and Sanitation Committee of Punjab government.
Wattoo says the problem is in the mindset of our policy makers who hardly consider sanitation and solid waste management as an issue of rural areas. “Have you ever heard about a national emergency for sanitation for all in Pakistan though there are some for safe drinking water for all like installment of water filtration plants all over the country? We need to change our mindset and make sanitation a top priority, otherwise diseases like diarrhea and polio can never be controlled”, he says, adding, “this is time for authorities to rethink policies as after the 18th Amendment the issue has become provincial.”