Despite Significant Increase Since 1990, Access to Sanitation Still Inadequate

Amanda Chiu | Jun 04, 2009

The share of people in the world with access to improved sanitation rose to 62 percent in 2006, according to the most recent data from the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.1 (See Table 1.) This is an increase from 54 percent in 1990.2 Some 1.2 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, yet more than twice that number—2.5 billion people worldwide—still lack such access, and 1.2 billion people still have no choice but to defecate outdoors in the open.3

Global efforts to improve this situation are falling short of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation,” which would require bringing sanitation access up to 77 percent by 2015.4 If current trends continue, by then 67 percent of people in the world will have such access.5

Improved sanitation is the highest level on the sanitation ladder. It is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF as “facilities that ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact."6 This includes not only traditional western toilets and extensive sewage systems but also facilities like flush or pour-flush toilets or latrines connected to a piped-sewer system, septic tank, or pit latrine as well as ventilated improved pit latrines, pit latrines with a slab to stand on, and composting toilets.7 On the bottom of this ladder is open defecation, defined as “defecation in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water or other open spaces, or disposal of human faeces with solid waste.”8

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More