Africa: Safe Water Access Goal Further Away Than Previously Thought
3 April 2012
allAfrica.com - April 2, 2012
Addis Ababa — A failure to incorporate water quality data into measurements of progress on the Millennium Development Goal of access to safe water has made some countries appear closer to achieving the goal than they actually are, according to a new study.
UNICEF (the UN Children's Fund) and the WHO share responsibility for monitoring progress towards the goal through a Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), which classifies water sources into "improved" or "unimproved" categories.
Improved sources are assumed to be "safe". These include water piped into houses or yards, public taps, protected wells and collected rainwater. Unimproved sources - which are deemed "unsafe" - include unprotected wells and springs, water supplied by tanker trucks, and water from rivers, dams, lakes and canals.
Researchers from the Water and Health Research Centre at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, analysed surveys conducted in 2004-5 by WHO and UNICEF in five countries including Ethiopia and Nigeria.
They noted a conclusion from the WHO/UNICEF surveys, that many "improved" water sources had frequently tested positive for microbial and chemical contamination. They incorporated relevant available data to recalculate population percentages with access to "safe" water.
Their work, published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation (March 2012), led to substantially lower estimates of progress towards achieving the MDG in four of the five countries studied. In Ethiopia, the national figure was revised downward by 11 per cent. In Nicaragua, it was 16 per cent, and in Nigeria it was 15 per cent.
"The 2012 assessment of the JMP on Drinking-Water and Sanitation states that the [MDG] target for drinking water has been met. However our research shows that if water quality were to be included, as we believe it should, then progress would be substantially lowered," said Robert Bain, co-author of the study.
The researchers noted that water quality data was not always available or reliable.