New Sanitation Figures Compete with Official UN Statistics: 6 in 10 Lack Proper Facilities | Source: by Brett Walton, Circle of Blue, Feb 26, 2013
Official United Nations figures claim that 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. But new research from the University of North Carolina puts the total at more than 4.1 billion people.
As world leaders and grassroots groups discuss how to reduce poverty and improve lives, debates over precise definitions and accurate measurements are taking on a new urgency. The agenda-setting Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, but already new definitions for water, sanitation, and hygiene — called WASH by insiders — seek to influence the post-MDG global development agenda.
Last month, the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, challenged official statistics from the United Nations on the number of people without proper toilet facilities: UNC put the figure at 4.1 billion people, compared with 2.5 billion claimed by the United Nations. Both figures assessed conditions in 2010.
The discrepancy between the two sets of sanitation figures comes from different accounting methods. The United Nations measures hardware — the toilet, in this case — and how well it protects the user from immediate contact with the waste. The UNC researchers, on the other hand, approached the question from a public health angle: they also considered hardware, but in a broader sense, by asking whether or not the sewage is treated.