UN statistics show that there is a great disparity in the results of the current water and sanitation policies between rural and urban areas. In the rural half of the world - where the needs are currently numerically the highest - it has been possible to improve access to water and sanitation in the past decade. On the contrary, in the urban half of the world, despite having provided access to water or sanitation services to hundreds of millions of additional people, the current policies have been unable to prevent the situation worsening.
Between 2000 and 2008, the world population increased by 635 million people. Of these, 511 million (80%) live in urban areas and 124 million (20%) in rural areas. Comparing the latest figures (2008) with 2000, the initial year of the Millennium Development Goals programme, a clear deterioration is observed. The proportion of the urban population that benefits from satisfactory access to drinking water or sanitation is decreasing.
In cities, and towns of all sizes, over those 8 years there has been an increase of:
- 114 million more people without access to tapwater at home or in the immediate vicinity
- 134 million more people without access to private sanitary toilets (basic sanitation)
In both cases, this means an increase of 20% in the number of individuals living in cities who lack these accesses. In the meantime, in urban areas, the number of people without access to 'improved water sources' (i.e. more or less the sources that are protected from direct contaminations) and the number of people without any other option than open defecation has not decreased. So, in cities, despite all the efforts, on average the world is not making progress in these domains that are essential to life and to social and economic development.
A surge is necessary to reverse these trends because further deterioration might create unmanageable situations in some cities, where the creation of infrastructure will be more and more difficult. Delays in action will make progress more and more costly. Obviously, current efforts in rural areas should continue while efforts in urban and peri-urban areas should be stepped up to prevent worsening the situation further. Water operators, public and private are willing to contribute to the more ambitious urban policies that are necessary.