Countries are not investing in infrastructure fast enough to meet water and sanitation targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a new report published by World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Today, almost two billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” Dr Maria Neira, director of the department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health at the WHO said.

“Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma,” she added.

Global water budgets

The report stressed that countries would not meet global goals of universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation unless steps are taken to use financial resources more efficiently and increase efforts to identify new sources of funding.

According to the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) 2017 report, countries have increased their budgets for water, sanitation and hygiene at an annual average rate of 4.9% over the last three years. Yet, 80% of countries report that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) financing is still insufficient to meet nationally defined targets for WASH services.

Lack of infrastructure

The report showed that in many developing countries, current national coverage targets are based on achieving access to basic infrastructure, which may not always provide continuously safe and reliable services.

The WHO said that planned investments have yet to take into account the SDG targets, which aim for universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030.

In order to meet the SDG global targets, the World Bank has estimated that investments in infrastructure need to triple to US $114 billion per year – a figure which excludes operating and maintenance costs.

While the infrastructure funding gap remains vast, 147 countries have already showed their ability to mobilise the resources required to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without an improved source of water, while 95 countries met the corresponding target for sanitation.

However, the WHO said that much more ambitious SDG targets will require collective, coordinated and innovative efforts to mobilise even higher levels of funding from all sources. These include taxes, tariffs (payments and labour from households), and transfers from donors.

“This is a challenge we have the ability to solve,” Guy Ryder, UN-Water chair said. “Increased investments in water and sanitation can yield substantial benefits for human health and development, generate employment and make sure that we leave no one behind.”