GENEVA, Switzerland, June 30 (UPI) -- Lack of access to toilets and unsanitary social norms threaten to undermine global efforts to improve drinking water and increase rates of child survival.
Great strides have been made to increase access to clean drinking water, and the number of children who die from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and hygiene has been cut in half during the last fifteen years, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
The largest issue at hand, said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF's global water, sanitation and hygiene programs, is sanitation and toilet access. 2.4 billion have no access to toilets, 946 million people defecate in the open, making it difficult to keep water supplies clean.
"Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases," said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, in a press release.
About 2.6 billion have gained access to cleaner drinking water, the two organizations report; 91 percent of the world's population has access to it. Additionally, fewer than 1,000 children die each day of diarrhea caused by water issues, as compared with about 2,000 per day 15 years ago.
An improved drinking source is one that is protected from contamination and can include water piped into homes, a public tap or standpipe, or some other protected access, as well as sources of water that are specifically not able to be contaminated.
Wijesekera said the global model on water, however, has not moved fast enough as many of the poorest people who need sanitation services have been left for last.
A more robust focus and investment will need to be made to improve hygiene and habits, as well as more innovative technologies and approaches to helping poor, often rural, areas get access to clean water, the organizations said.