Breakthrough in the fight against poverty and in gaining access to safe drinking water

Article, 25.04.2012

The World Bank and the United Nations have good news: The number of people living in extreme poverty has halved since 1990 and, in the same period, an additional two billion people now have access to safe drinking water. With this, two Millennium Development Goals have been met before the 2015 deadline.

In 2008, the international community set eight Millennium Development Goals that must be met by 2015. These include halving the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger in comparison with 1990, providing general primary schooling for all, ensuring equal treatment for men and women, and reducing mortality rates among mothers and children. Switzerland has oriented its development activities strongly to the MDGs: Poverty reduction has top priority.

This first, essential objective is now met. Since 1990, the number of people in the world living on less than USD 1.25 a day – the world’s poorest – has fallen from 1.94 billion to 1.29 billion. In March 2012, the World Bank declared that this goal had already been met in 2010.

Poverty is still intolerable
The numbers for China and India are especially encouraging. In particular economic growth in these two countries has helped lift many people out of poverty. In Sub-Saharan Africa too, where poverty is especially widespread, the situation has improved. For the first time ever, the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty in this region has fallen below 50%.

In spite of this encouraging development, the World Bank continues to see an urgent need for action to fight poverty. Even though extreme poverty continues to decline, in 2015 there will still be one billion people affected. The World Bank qualifies this as “intolerable”.

In addition, there is a very large number of people who, although they have passed the USD 1.25 mark, are still living on less than USD 2 a day. This number has fallen only slightly in the last 30 years (from 2.59 billion to 2.47 billion).

Almost 90% have access to safe drinking water
According to the UN World Water Development Report, the proportion of the world’s population now with access to safe drinking water has increased since 1990 to 89%. With this, MDG 7 - halving the world’s population without access to safe drinking water - has been met. However, there has been less progress on access to sanitation facilities, which the UN wants to improve together with the supply of drinking water.

Still no reason to declare victory
The big regional differences are still a serious cause for concern. While India and China are successfully leading efforts to overcome the problem, in Sub-Saharan Africa almost 40% of the people do not have access to safe drinking water.

The director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, warned that victory could not yet be declared as at least 11% of the world’s population – 783 million people – are still without access to safe drinking water.

Dossier: The Millennium Development Goals