COVID-19 highlights lack of access to safe water globally

30th July 2021

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Billions of people worldwide have been unable to access safe drinking water and sanitation in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a progress report from the World Health Organisation focusing on the UN’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) – to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030”.

Three in 10 people globally could not wash their hands with soap and water within their homes at the onset of the pandemic, and around a quarter lacked access to safe household drinking water. Nearly half also lack safely managed sanitation services, and “billions of children and families” will continue to be left without life-saving access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services in 2030 unless SDG 6 progress quadruples.

The report does highlight reasons for optimism: between 2016 and 2020, the population with safely managed drinking water at home increased from 70% to 74%. Safely managed sanitation services grew from 47% to 54%, and handwashing facilities with soap and water increased from 67% to 71%. Last year, for the first time, more people used improved on-site sanitation – such as pit latrines and septic tanks, which can effectively contain and treat waste – than sewer connections.

However, the report also notes vast inequalities, with vulnerable children and families suffering the most.

To achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water by 2030, the current rate of progress in the least developed countries would need to increase 10-fold.

Read the full report at

Image credit: GettyImages

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