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Basic needs

Access to supplies of clean drinking water and sanitation is still a problem for hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Fetching water can involve frequent long journeys on foot and is a task that usually falls to women and children. It is estimated to take up to 40bn hours a year - time which could be spent in productive work or at school.

Recent figures suggest more than four out of 10 people still have to rely on sources of water (such as rivers or ponds) that could make them ill or kill them. Even in some urban areas, many people do not have water on the premises. About 26% of rural dwellers have improved sanitation, while the urban figure is 55%, according to UN agencies.

The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of all sickness in the world can be blamed on unsafe water and poor sanitation. Water-borne illnesses include diarrhoeal diseases which killed about 707,000 people - many of them children - in Africa in 2002, the WHO says. But the major cause of death for under-fives is malaria, another preventable disease.

Women carrying water in Tanzania
(Picture courtesy of WaterAid/Caroline Penn)

Graph showing global differences in access to improved water


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