Access to safe water and hygienic sanitation are fundamental to good health. In 2008, 2.6 billion people – 40 percent of the world’s population -- had no access to improved sanitation facilities. Every year, 1.5 million children die due to diarrhea caused by the combined effects of inadequate sanitation, unsafe water supply, and poor personal hygiene.

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target is to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015. Progress has been slow and, at the current rate, the world will miss the MDG target.

Access to improved sanitation facilities

While the percent of population with access to improved facilities increased since 1990 in all regions, the number of people living without access has increased due to slow progress and population growth. The population with access to improved facilities is particularly low in Sub-Saharan Africa, 31 percent, but the largest share of population without access is in South Asia.

Access to improved sanitation facilities (% of population)
Distribution of 2.6 billion people not using improved  sanitation facilities in 2008 (million)
Forty percent of people do not have improved sanitation facilities in developing countries:

  • 17 per cent of them practiced open defecation – the most risky sanitation practice of all;
  • 11 per cent used an unimproved sanitation facility – one that does not ensure hygienic separation of excreta from human contact; and,
  • Another 11 percent used otherwise acceptable sanitation facilities but shared a facility between two or more households, or used a public toilet facility.

Distribution of sanitation facilitiesin 2008 (%)

Access to improved sanitation shows striking differences between urban-rural populations. In developing countries, 70 percent of people use improved sanitation facilities in urban areas, compared to 40 percent in rural areas. But this varies among regions. The gap between rural and urban populations is 30 percentage points or more in Latin America and Caribbean, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa have large urban-rural disparities of 30 percentage point gap, while in East Asia and Pacific, the gap is 10 percentage points.

Access to improved sanitation facilities, urban/rural difference, 2008 (% of population)

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