UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Some 2.6 billion people in the world, mainly in Africa and Asia, lack access to basic sanitation, increasing the risk of diarrhea and other diseases fatal to children, said a U.N. report released on Thursday.
UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund, in a study on water and sanitation in developing nations, concluded that U.N. goals could be met on clean water, especially in urban areas, but the same was not true for access to the crudest of toilets.
The report, Progress for Children, surveyed available clean water and sanitation facilities from 1990 to 2004 and calculated which countries could meet goals set at a U.N. Millennium summit in 2000.
These include cutting in half by 2015 the proportion of people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
"Despite commendable progress, an estimated 425 million children under the age of 18 still do not have access to an improved water supply and over 980 million do not have access to adequate sanitation, said Anne Veneman, UNICEF's executive director and a former U.S. secretary of agriculture.
Overall, about 1.2 billion people, or an increase from 78 percent in 1990 to 83 percent in 2004, had access to drinking water, a figure that would meet the Millennium goals.
Still, more than 1 billion people were without clean water in 2004 from sources such as wells or springs, a number which may increase as the population grows, the report said.
The lack of access to water is especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, which represents about 11 percent of the world's population but almost a third of all people without access to safe drinking water.
But even in North Africa and the Middle East, people living in arid rural areas suffer from lack of water. In Djibouti, Iraq and Morocco, for example, more than 40 percent of the rural population have no access to proper drinking water.
Among the worst-affected nations, where less than 50 percent of the population has can find proper water sources, are Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Equatorial Guinea and Chad, the report said.
Meanwhile, access to basic facilities such as flush toilets or cleanable latrines slabs rose to 59 percent from 49 percent in 1990 but remained short of U.N. targets.
Of the 2.6 billion people worldwide without access to proper sanitation, about 2 billion live in rural areas, some two-thirds in sub-Saharan Africa and 37 percent in South Asia.
At the same time, the largest gains were in Asia, especially in India and China. But the report said the majority of people in both countries still have no adequate sanitation.