844 Million: The New Statistic That’s Moving Us Forward

Over the last 29 years, you’ve helped Living Water International bring hope to thirsty communities and reduce the number of people suffering from the global water crisis.

But as we become a more data-driven organization and strive to make an even greater impact, we have improved our reporting to measure and share our success in a way that is meaningful, relevant, and accurate.

Understanding the scale of the problem we are fighting is key. Until recently, you’ve likely seen us communicate that 663 million people around the world lack access to safe water. This stat was the best information that the WASH (water access, sanitation, and hygiene) sector had at the time.

However, this number is now outdated, so Living Water is updating our statistics moving forward. We wanted to let you know why.

Back in 2015, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report through the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) estimating 663 million people lacked access to water from an improved water source. Along with many other organizations, we adopted this number as the internationally accepted standard from which to measure our progress—even though the standards for “improved” sources varied widely.

In 2017, JMP released a new report revising the estimates for 2015. The report showed that 582 million people lacked access to water from an improved water source—over 81 million people fewer than the 663 estimated previously. This was great news for us and everyone else working to end the world water crisis!

In the same report, JMP also released new standards that will help our sector measure progress toward the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Goal 6 of the SDG is to “ensure access to water and sanitation for all.” In order to accurately and consistently measure progress towards this goal, new definitions were determined.

Safe water from a hand pump pours into a metal container sitting on the ground next to another metal pot.

According to the new definitions:

-3 in 10 people worldwide (2.1 billion) lack access to safe, readily available water at home.

-159 million people collect drinking water directly from surface water sources (e.g. rivers, streams, and water holes).

-844 million people lack access to basic water service.

Of course, you’ll note that 844 million is greater than 663 million. But, don’t be discouraged: we are not moving backwards! Rather, this new definition better reflects the progress we as a sector are making.

“Basic water service” is defined as drinking water from an improved water source that can be accessed within 30 minutes (including waiting). Previously, there was no time requirement or consistency when measuring distance. With the higher standard, it makes sense this new number would be larger.

Ultimately, this is good news for Living Water International and our partners as the new measures are more in line with the level of service we were already requiring for our quality standards. We are excited about the significant progress the WASH sector has made and feel hopeful about our ongoing efforts to help our thirsty sisters and brothers.

You can find more information on these and other WASH-related statistics at https://washdata.org/ and https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/.

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