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Huge strides in global water, sanitation: UN

GENEVA -- Global access to safer drinking water and decent sanitation has hugely improved over the past two decades but the world's poorest often remain sidelined, the U.N. said Thursday.

Providing better drinking water and sanitation is the bedrock of the battle against diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

“It's really an issue of addressing excreta, feces, poo, I can even say shit. This is the root cause of so many diseases,” said Bruce Gordon, coordinator of the water and sanitation arm of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Diarrhea related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene kills 842,000 people every year, Gordon said.

In a report, the WHO and UNICEF said 89 percent of the globe's population had access to improved water supplies at the end of 2012, up 13 percent on two decades ago.

In U.N. jargon, an “improved drinking water source” protects the supply from contamination, notably by feces.

But despite the progress, 748 million people — roughly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa and most of the rest in Asia — still used unimproved water sources.

The bulk of them lived in rural areas.

The study also examined access to “improved sanitation facilities,” which separate excreta from human contact.

By the end of 2012, 64 percent of the global population used such facilities, a rise of 15 percentage points since 1990, it found.

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