International Policy/United Nations

Global Water Goal Met; Now Let's Push Sanitation

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The UN's target for access to drinking water was reached ahead of time. Great news for girls and women, but Lisa Schechtman is still watching the off-target goal of improved sanitation. What's the point of water if we can't keep it clean?

(WOMENSENEWS)--March has been a great month for women and water.

Let's keep it going as we approach World Water Day on March 22.

The huge news, of course, came when the United Nations announced that the world has met the Millennium Development Goal target to reduce by half the proportion of people worldwide living without access to safe drinking water.

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Not only was this target met, it was met nearly four years ahead of schedule.

This is really a big splash for girls and women. It's often girls and women, after all, who fetch and pump the family's water and manage crops while lacking control over household resources. Girls and women are disproportionately burdened with chores and care-giving, illiteracy, hunger and poverty.

Access to safe drinking water can help ameliorate or overcome all these challenges.

But hang on.

While hailing this accomplishment, let's remember the Millennium Development Goal target to halve the proportion of people living without safe sanitation. This is the most off-track of all our poverty-reduction goals. The goal, to halve, by 2012, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation will not be met. By 2015, only 67 percent of the world will have access to improved sanitation facilities, not the stated goal of 75 percent of the population. Today, 63 percent of the global population use toilets and other improved sanitation facilities.

What's clean water if sanitation isn't there to keep it clean?

Fortunately, the U.S. Agency for International Development understands how these goals are twinned.

When the agency released its long-awaited policy on gender equality and female empowerment earlier this month, authors stressed the need for more gender equity in water and sanitation project.

It's a fantastic start, and great leadership. With Congressional support for improved equity in water and sanitation projects, we might just have even more to celebrate.

If you want to join in the fight for water and sanitation justice, I urge you to take a look at the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, which will prioritize expanded access to safe water and sanitation by being smarter about how we spend existing resources--and by emphasizing the needs of women and girls and the opportunities offered by greater equity.

Between now and World Water Day on March 22, we have the opportunity and obligation to make more noise about women and water.

Clean water depends on sanitation, and both depend on governments being willing to prioritize the needs of women and girls.

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