The period 1981 to 1990 was the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. WHO played an important role in the 'Decade', in developing human resources, in information exchange and appropriate technology and by establishing guidelines for drinking water quality. Technical backup and advice is provided by WHO's Community Water Supply and Sanitation (CWS) unit. The major part of WHO's technical cooperation in environmental health in developing countries is in fact directed to community water supply and sanitation. UN agencies have worked to make safe drinking water available to 1,300 million people in rural areas in the decade 1984-94.
Much effort has been directed towards supplying drinking water and sanitation facilities in urban areas. The coverage of urban areas (excluding China) in terms of drinking water supply is likely to reach 78% by 1990, as compared with 76% in 1980. This accompanies an estimated 49% increase in the urban population of developing countries (excluding China). During the same period, the percentage of the rural population supplied increased from 31 to 49%, while the total population rose by 17%. In Africa, because of the rapid growth in urban population - from 158.5 million in 1985 to a projected 332 million by the year 2000 - progress in providing water has been particularly slow. On the basis of current trends, the number of urban dwellers without an adequate supply of water may even increase, from 25.7 million in 1980 to more than 87.4 million by the year 2000. The drinking water supply in Africa is expected to remain inadequate for about 50% of the rural population, or about 240 million people.
In the Asia and Pacific region (excluding China), the urban population provided with adequate water supply is expected to double between 1980 and 2000. Nevertheless, the number of urban dwellers without an adequate supply of drinking water is estimated at some 300 million people, out of an estimated urban population of 763 million. Progress in the rural supply of water seems to have been quite significant. On the basis of current trends, it is expected that in Asia and the Pacific, as many as 78% of the rural population could be supplied with at least minimum water requirements.
In Western Asia, urban dwellers are expected to achieve full drinking water and sanitation coverage by 1990. However, only 57% of the rural population are expected to have adequate drinking water, as compared with 48% in 1980. At the current pace of expansion, service coverage will have reached 60% of the population by the year 2000.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, efforts at improving water supply and sanitation coverage started earlier than in the other developing regions, with emphasis on urban coverage. By 1980, an estimated 83% of the urban population had water supply services. Coverage of rural areas remained low at 41% and large pockets of the urban poor in the region remain without adequate water and sanitation services. By the year 2000, in view of the rapidly expanding urban populations, the number of urban dwellers without an adequate supply of drinking water is expected to rise to 45 million, from 40.5 million in 1990. With regard to the rural population, at the current rate of progress, coverage will have reached 56%.
At the country level, significant improvements in access to safe water from 1980 to 1990 have been made in [inter alia]: Sri Lanka (41% rise); Bangladesh (40% rise); Oman (39% rise); Burkina Faso (38% rise); Benin (37% rise); Lesotho (33% rise); India, and Zimbabwe (32% rise).