International Policy/United Nations

Global Water Goal Met; Now Let's Push Sanitation

Thursday, March 15, 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?

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Incomplete Milestone

The Millennium Goal target, after all, is an incomplete milestone.

Nearly 800 million people still lack everyday access to safe drinking water. A further 2.5 billion don't have sanitation facilities; no latrine, let alone a toilet or sewers.

A reliable source of safe drinking water close to home can increase women's decision-making and negotiation power because they have time to contribute to household income instead of spending hours seeking water, which is often unsafe to drink anyway.

Programs done right can give women a decision-making voice in their communities, too, often for the first time, by ensuring their input is heard by water users committees that decide where to put water taps and how to maintain them.

This has the additional benefit that when women and girls no longer need to look for water, they can instead attend school, vocational training, or literacy programs. They can socialize and play with their kids. They can grow more food--and healthier food--if they have time, the health, and the skills to work and better manage water resources. Progress on access to safe drinking water opens many doors for women of all ages in communities worldwide.

The Millennium Development Goals targets are a global aggregate. They do not necessarily require public health officials to serve the most remote communities, the most marginalized populations, the sickest or most stigmatized.

When you overlay those issues with an understanding that gender-based discrimination is still rampant worldwide, it becomes even more certain that women and girls will benefit greatly when we now get down to the tough stuff.

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Lisa Schechtman is head of policy and advocacy at WaterAid in America.

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