Missing the Millennium Development Goal targets for water and sanitation in urban areas

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

'This paper reviews progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water and sanitation in urban areas. Drawing on UN data, it shows the disastrous performance of many low- and middle-income nations in relation to the goal of halving the proportion without drinking water sources piped on premises and improved sanitation between 1990 and 2015. It also describes how even such a poor performance is actually understating the problem because of deficiencies in the data available. For water, there are no data sources with global coverage on who has “sustainable access to safe drinking water” (what the MDGs specify). UN statistics record whether households have drinking water sources piped on premises, but this does not necessarily mean the water is safe to drink or that there is a regular, reliable supply (what is implied by sustainable access). For what is termed “improved” or “basic” sanitation, the bar is set too low in the quality of provision needed in urban areas, so large numbers of urban dwellers said to have improved or basic sanitation still lack sanitation that greatly reduces health risks. The paper emphasizes that assessments of provision for water and sanitation need to make allowances for different contexts; what can work well in rural contexts does not do so in large and dense urban agglomerations. The paper ends with a discussion of what the experience with the MDGs for water and sanitation implies for the Sustainable Development Goals.'

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