One in every three people in the world still does not have access to toilets, according to the latest report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released on Tuesday.
The Joint Monitoring Program report, titled Progress on sanitation and drinking water: 2015 update and MDG assessment, said that an estimated 2.4 billion people do not have access to sanitation facilities worldwide. This figure includes 946 million people who choose to defecate in open areas.
This lack of progress regarding sanitation is viewed as a threat to the health and safety of the public as those who make do without toilets contribute to the pollution of water sources.
Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF's head of global water, sanitation and hygiene programs, said that the data shows the need to address issues of inequalities in order to gain sustainable progress.
He explained that the current global model demonstrates that the wealthiest people are the ones who first move ahead. They are then followed by the poorest people but only if they are granted access adequate facilities.
"If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away," Wijesekera said.
Access to improved sources of drinking water has been one of the major achievements made by the international community. Around 91 percent of the world's population now has cleaner drinking water, in addition to the 2.6 billion people who already had access since 1990.
This improvement has also led to a substantial increase in survival rates among children in the past few years.
Modern-day figures show that less than 1,000 children under the five years old die from diarrhea daily due to the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation, compared to the more than 2,000 children recorded 15 years before.
However, the progress made on sanitation has been met with difficulties, such as the inadequacy of investments needed to introduce behavior change campaigns, the lack of inexpensive products for the poor and even social norms in societies that accept or encourage defecation in open areas.
While around 2.1 billion people were given access to better sanitation since 1990, the report said the world failed to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) by close to 700 million people.
Modern estimates show that 68 percent of the population of the world uses improved sanitation facilities, which is nine percentage points below the MDG target set at 77 percent.
Dr. Maria Neira, the WHO's director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said that as long as many people still do not have access to enough sanitation facilities, the quality of water will continue to be threatened. This could lead to more people dying from waterborne and water-related illnesses.
The United Nations General Assembly is expected to introduce a new set of Sustainable Development Goals in September, including plans to eliminate open defecation by 2030.
Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús | Flickr