Is the UN Placing Enough Priority on Urban Water?

David Satterthwaite of the International Institute of Environment and Development in London recently told the BBC that the United Nations’ goals for clean water are unrealistic and do not do enough to address water quality issues in urban settings. Satterthwaite is working on a report for the UN that will make those points.

Satterthwaite told the BBC,

According to most official government statistics, most urban people have good water and sanitation. Our puzzle has long been that pretty much every city and small urban centre I work with in Africa and Asia, and most in Latin America has very poor provision, especially for low-income groups.

. . .

There are no sewers, few open drains, and most people rely on standpipes. It’s common for there to be 1,000 to each stand pipe.

Satterthwaite argues that the total number of people in urban settings lacking access to clean water and sanitation is likely four to five times that of official statistics. He told the BBC,

Possibly the most socking thing we found was the number of urban dwellers who rely on open defecation. They have no toilet. What we found was, in many cities, there’s been a popular term for open defecation. In many cities in Africa, it’s known as “flying toilets,” because you defecate in a plastic bag and then you throw it.


UN water aims ‘unrealistic’. The BBC, February 28, 2003.

Leave a Reply