Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011
 
People - Poverty and Inequality
Access to water and sanitation
Data sources: UN MDG Indicators database.

Access to clean water for domestic use (drinking, cooking and personal hygiene) as well as access to basic, yet adequate sanitation is essential in maintaining the health of a population. However, based on 2008 estimates, 466 million people lack access to improved water sources and 1.87 billion people lack access to improved sanitation in Asia and the Pacific.

Uninhibited access to safe and potable water is vital for human life. Inadequate access to improved sanitation facilities, coupled with poor hygienic practices, allows diseases to spread, leading to impoverishment and diminished opportunities. Recognizing the far-reaching health and economic impacts of inaccessibility to safe water and unavailability of basic sanitation, the United Nations General Assembly declared in July 2010 that access to safe and potable drinking water as well as sanitation is a “human right essential to the enjoyment of life and all other human rights” – just like the right to food and the right to live free of torture and racial discrimination.1

The importance of water and sanitation is also articulated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); specifically in the MDG-7 target of reducing by one half the proportions of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and to basic sanitation (as measured by the access to improved water sources and access to improved sanitation). Sustainability in this context pertains both to the functional aspects of sanitation technologies and the long-term viability of individual and collective efforts to provide for sanitation facilities.

Improved water sources, according to the WHO Global Health Observatory (WHO/GHO), include household water-supply connections, public standpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collection.

Improved sanitation facilities include connections to public sewers or septic systems, pour-flush latrines, simple pit latrines or ventilated, improved pit latrines – but not public or open latrines.

Globally, an estimated 876 million people lack reliable access to improved water sources and 2.63 billion do not have access to improved sanitation facilities.

Sustainable access to safe water

In Asia and the Pacific the proportion of people who enjoy improved water sources has steadily increased from 74% in 1990 to 82% in 2000 and 89% in 2008. The gains can largely be attributed to infrastructural investment and development in East and North-East Asia, South-East Asia, and South and South-West Asia. The current rate of progress puts Asia and the Pacific slightly behind Latin America and the Caribbean, which for years has shown the highest access among developing regions of the world. The Asia-Pacific region is ahead of Africa (a 65% access rate in 2008). North America and Europe have set the standard of universal access to safe and potable water.

East and North-East Asia, and North and Central Asia, lead the Asia-Pacific region in providing improved water sources, with coverage of 90% or more of their populations. All countries in those two subregions, except Mongolia and Tajikistan, had a 2008 access to improved water rate at or above 80%.

Pacific island countries as a whole have regressed from a 90% access rate in 1990 to 88% in 2008, a level that is still higher than the global average. The relapse is mainly due to a decrease in the access to improved water sources by people in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea’s population currently represents 18% of the Pacific subregion (an increase from 15% in 1990) while the percentage of people with access to improved water sources is an appalling 40% (a decrease from 41% in 1990 and much lower than any other country in the Pacific).

Figure I.45 – Total population with access to improved water sources, Asia-Pacific and subregions, 1990 and 2008

Figure I.45 – Total population with access to improved water sources, Asia-Pacific and subregions, 1990 and 2008

In 2008, 96% of the urban population throughout Asia and the Pacific had access to improved water sources. While the percentage of the urban population without access to improved water sources has increased in a few cases (specifically, Armenia, Bangladesh, Cook Islands, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea), all other countries have experienced constant or inclining access to improved water sources since 1990. Partly responsible for the declines in urban access to water was rural-to-urban migration that increased competition for the use of available water, especially in burgeoning slum areas. In 2008, only 75% of the urban population in Myanmar had adequate access to improved water, compared with 87% in 1990. Political turmoil as well as the recent natural disasters have driven the decline.

Between 1990 and 2008, Afghanistan (based on 1995, 1990 data unavailable), Cambodia, Mongolia and Timor-Leste (based on 2000, 1990 and 1995 data unavailable) exhibited the greatest increase in the percentage with access to improved water in urban areas, with a 66, 29, 16 and 17 percentage point difference, respectively. These three countries have achieved the MDG-7 target of a 50% reduction in the proportion of people without access to improved water in urban areas. Georgia, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Viet Nam also achieved the MDG-7 target in urban areas; however, as the 1990 values were higher, the relative gains in these countries were less (between 2 and 11 percentage points).

Figure I.46 – Urban population with access to improved water sources, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2008*

Figure I.46 – Urban population with access to improved water sources, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2008


* The following countries used other earliest years as indicated where data is available – Lao PDR, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Solomon Islands, and Tonga (1995); Bhutan and Timor-Leste (2000); and Nauru (2005). Meanwhile, the following countries used other latest years as indicated where data is available – Fiji (2000); Kiribati, Palau, Samoa and Solomon Islands (2005).

Between 1990 and 2008, the proportion of the rural population with access to improved water sources increased by 19 percentage points from 64% to 83%, this is more than a 50% reduction in the proportion of the rural population without access. Nonetheless, access in rural areas remains 13 percentage points less than that in urban areas, despite several initiatives to shorten the gap.

In all the subregions excepting the Pacific, more than 80% of rural inhabitants have access to improved water sources; and in the Pacific all countries except Papua New Guinea (33%), Vanuatu (79%) and Solomon Islands (65%) meet the same criteria. Impressive gains have been observed in many Asia-Pacific countries. In China alone, access to improved water sources in rural areas increased from 56% in 1990 to 82% in 2008. In the same period, Mongolia increased the access rate from 27% to 49%. In South-East Asia, Viet Nam has taken the lead by increasing the access rate from 51% in 1990 to 92% in 2008.

Access to basic sanitation facilities

The year 2008 was named the International Year of Sanitation in order to emphasize the importance and value to health, the economy and the environment of having adequate access to basic sanitation. Massive campaigns were launched to develop and distribute lowest-cost technologies that would dispose of excreta and sullage, hygienically and enable communities of users to live in clean and healthy environments. The drive for sanitation has particular relevance for Asia; home to 70% of the world’s 1.1 billion people who defecate in the open (58% are in India alone).2

From 1990 to 2008, the global proportion of people with access to improved sanitation facilities increased from 53% to 61%; however, over that same time period the number of people lacking access to improved sanitation increased from 2.50 billion to 2.63 billion. Thus, the world population is growing faster than the delivery of improved sanitation services.

Figure I.47 – Rural population with access to improved water sources, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2008*

Figure I.47 – Rural population with access to improved water sources, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2008


* The following countries used other earliest years where data is available – Afghanistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Korea, Lao PDR, Solomon Islands, Tajikistan, Tonga and Turkmenistan (1995); Bhutan and Timor-Leste (2000). Meanwhile, the following countries used other latest years as indicated where data is available – Iran (Islamic Rep. of ) (2000); Cook Islands, Kiribati, Micronesia (F.S.), Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Turkmenistan (2005).

Figure I.48 – Total population with access to improved sanitation, world regions, 1990 and 2008

Figure I.48 – Total population with access to improved sanitation, world regions, 1990 and 2008

The Asia-Pacific region has made more progress toward halving the proportion of people without improved sanitation than any other region. From 42% in 1990, Asia and the Pacific had by 2008 increased its proportion of people with access to improved sanitation to 54%, which corresponds to a decrease of 20% in the proportion of people without improved sanitation. Over the same period, the number of people in the Asia-Pacific lacking access to improved sanitation fell from 1.88 billion to 1.86 billion.

South and South-West Asia lag behind in providing improved sanitation facilities; in 2008, the proportion of the population with access to improved sanitation was an abysmal 40%. The number of people lacking access to improved sanitation grew by 126 million from 1990 to 2008. The increase was driven primarily by the high population growth rate in tandem with the low delivery rate of sanitation improvements. The Pacific subregion regressed from an 88% provision rate in 1990 to 85% in 2008. Similar to the access to improved water sources, the poor performance in the Pacific was primarily due to the decrease in access in Papua New Guinea (47% to 45%) coupled with Papua New Guinea’s rising share in the subregional population.

South-East Asia continues to make gains in providing access to improved sanitation. The subregion increased, by 25 percentage points, the proportion of people with access to basic sanitation services between 1990 and 2008. Myanmar and Viet Nam made the greatest leap over that period; from a 23% access rate to 81% in Myanmar and from 35% to 75% in Viet Nam.

Figure I.49 – Total population with access to improved sanitation, Asia-Pacific and subregions, 1990 and 2008

Figure I.49 – Total population with access to improved sanitation, Asia-Pacific and subregions, 1990 and 2008

The increasing urban Asian and Pacific population and the continued slum growth may put the achievement of the MDG-7 sanitation target in jeopardy. Between 1990 and 2008, basic sanitation access in the region’s urban locations increased by only 3 percentage points. With an urban population growth rate that is increasing faster than the sanitation access rate, the region regressed in the number of urban inhabitants with improved sanitation services. From 1990 to 2008, the Asia-Pacific urban population lacking access to improved sanitation increased by 167 million. Progress in increasing the rate of access has been slow in all subregions except South-East Asia, which made a gain of 12 percentage points in the access rate over the past two decades. In 2008, Bangladesh, China, India and Nepal showed urban improved sanitation access rates below 60%.

In rural areas, Asian and Pacific countries have increased the proportion of those with access to improved sanitation. From 30% in 1990 and 38% in 2000, access by the rural population to improved sanitation increased to 43% in 2008, 2% shy of the global average. Over that period, South-East Asia achieved the greatest rural sanitation rate increase of 26 percentage points; followed by East and North-East Asia at 13 and South and South-West Asia at 14. Although South and South-West Asia have shown an increase in rural access to improved sanitation, the subregional rate is only 28%, which is much lower than any other subregion. In South and South-West Asia, 4 of the 10 countries had a coverage rate at 30% or lower and another 2 were below 60% in 2008. Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan achieved rural sanitation coverage rates of only 30%, 21%, 27% and 29%, respectively, in 2008. With respect to achieving the MDG-7 sanitation target, the current trend is not promising.

Figure I.50 – Urban population with access to improved sanitation, Asia-Pacific and subregions, world, 1990 and 2008

Figure I.50 – Urban population with access to improved sanitation, Asia-Pacific and subregions, world, 1990 and 2008

Figure I.51 – Rural population with access to improved sanitation, Asia-Pacific and subregions, world, 1990 and 2008

Still a long road ahead

Despite the clear health, economic and environmental benefits of safe water and hygienic sanitation facilities, the Asia-Pacific region is still far from having universal coverage.

Growth in regional coverage in access to improved water and sanitation from 1990 to 2008 demonstrates some progress in achieving the MDG-7 targets in Asia and the Pacific. However, rural access continues to fall short of urban access. Rural areas often lack an enabling environment that can attract sustained investments, both public and private for the improvement of water and sanitation services and facilities.

Rural and urban population with access to improved water sources and anitation, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2008

Rural and urban population with access to improved water sources and anitation, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2008


1 See General Assembly resolution of 28 July 2010/64/292 on the human right to water and sanitation.

2 Source: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, 2010 update page 22.

 
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Table I.39 Access to water
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Table I.40 Access to water – people affected
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Table I.41 Access to sanitation Table I.41 Access to sanitation
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Table I.42 Access to sanitation – people affected
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