UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Almost half of the world's population, mainly in Africa and Asia, lack access to basic sanitation, increasing the risk of diarrhoea and other diseases fatal to children, according to a U.N. report released on Thursday.
UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund, concluded in a study on water and sanitation in developing nations that U.N. goals could be met on clean water, especially in urban areas, but the same was not true for access to even the crudest of toilets.
The report, Progress for Children, surveyed available clean water and sanitation facilities and calculated which countries could meet U.N. goals of cutting in half by 2015 the proportion of people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
More than 1 billion people were without clean water in 2004 from sources such as wells or springs, a number that could increase as the population grows, the report said.
It said the inaccessibility of clean water was especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa.
Arid lands, rampant poverty and raging conflicts in parts of the vast continent make it particularly hard for women and children to get safe drinking water and access to proper sanitation, Maria Mutagamba, Uganda's minister of state for water, lands and environment, told a U.N. news conference.
SEARCH FOR WATER
Northern Uganda is home to a vicious 20-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands and forced nearly 2 million people from their homes, many of them forced into squalid camps.
"Children have got to walk long distances, drop out of school to go out and look for water," Mutagamba said. "There are areas in my own part of the country, where when it is dry, schools just close and the children just move with the animals in search of water."
Among the worst-affected nations, where less than half the population could find proper water sources, were Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Equatorial Guinea and Chad, the report said.
"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 Ann Veneman, UNICEF's executive director and a former U.S. secretary of agriculture.
People living in arid rural areas in North Africa and the Middle East also suffer from lack of water. In Djibouti, Iraq and Morocco, for example, almost half of the rural population have no access to proper drinking water.
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, particularly in India and China. But the majority of people in both nations still have inadequate sanitation, UNICEF said.