Basic necessities of life that are still not basic…

Basic necessities of life that are still not basic for millions

Blog post by Dr. Roopa Suppiah, Co-founder of Water Well-ness Project – Get free updates of new blog posts here.

Today in 2020, too much of the global population still lacks access to the basic necessities of life – to safe and available water, sanitation and handwashing facilities.

You’ve most definitely heard about this issue, but where are we currently from a global burden perspective?

The most recent global statistics were compiled by the United Nations in 2017 (another assessment will be happening soon) showing that:

  • 30% (3 out of 10) of the world population doesn’t have safely managed water (water that is free from contamination, located on premises and available when needed)

  • 65% (6.5 out of 10) of the world population doesn’t have safely managed sanitation services (a toilet that hygienically separates excreta (urine and stool) from human contact, is safely disposed and is not shared with other households)

  • 40% (4 out of 10) of the world population doesn’t have a handwashing facility with soap and water on premises

When we see these numbers in percentages of the entire global population, we see what huge issues we face! There’s a lot of work to do.

Although all of these statistics are truly unacceptable (we need to achieve universal access!), a couple of statistics in particular make my eyes and ears really perk up. First is that 9% of the entire world (673 million people, or 18 times the population of Canada) has to poop in open spaces such as fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water termed “open defection”. Imagine what that would feel like if every time you needed to “go”, day or night, you had to search for a place outside for some privacy. A second astonishing fact is that one out of every four healthcare facilities worldwide lack clean and available drinking water. As a physician, I understand how critical clean water is in helping reduce the spread of disease.

We do have things to be proud of, however. We have been making progress (not stagnating or getting worse) over the last couple decades for access to water, sanitation and hygiene, as you can see from the chart below which depicts how the situation has changed since the year 2000. Each of the terms in the legend has a very specific definition, so I’ve created some charts below in case you’d like to understand the details.

Chart taken from the the United Nations website here:

Definitions for water:

Improved drinking water source – those that have the potential to deliver safe water by nature of their design and construction, and include: piped water, boreholes or tubewells, protected dug wells, protected springs, rainwater, and packaged or delivered water.

Safely managed Drinking water from an improved water source which is located on premises, available when needed and free from faecal and priority chemical contamination
Basic Drinking water from an improved source, provided collection time is not more than 30 minutes for a roundtrip including queuing
Limited Drinking water from an improved source for which collection time exceeds 30 minutes for a roundtrip including queuing
Unimproved Drinking water from an unprotected dug well or unprotected spring
Surface water Drinking water directly from a river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal or irrigation canal


Definitions for sanitation:

Improved sanitation facility – those designed to hygienically separate excreta from
human contact, and include: flush/pour flush to piped sewer system, septic tanks or pit latrines; ventilated improved pit latrines, composting toilets or pit latrines with slabs.

Safely managed Use of improved facilities which are not shared with other households and where excreta are safely disposed in situ or transported and treated off-site
Basic Use of improved facilities which are not shared with other households
Limited Use of improved facilities shared between two or more households
Unimproved Use of pit latrines without a slab or platform, hanging latrines or bucket latrines
Surface water Disposal of human faeces in fields, forests, bushes, open bodies of water, beaches and other open spaces or with solid waste

Definitions for hygiene:

Basic Availability of handwashing facility on premises with soap and water
Limited Availability of a handwashing facility on premises without soap and water
No Facility No handwashing facility on premises

Where do we go from here? Sustainable Development Goal #6, “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030” is what we are striving for. To get there over the next decade, we will rely on individuals, governments, NGOs and public and private industry to finance and implement creative solutions to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are available to all, not just some.


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