Around 4.4 billion people lack safely managed sanitation and around 2.1 billion lack access to safe, readily available water at home, a new report by the WHO and Unicef has revealed.
The Joint Monitoring Programme report presents the first global assessment of "safely managed" drinking water and sanitation services. The overriding conclusion is that too many people still lack access, particularly in rural areas.
"Safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home should not be a privilege of only those who are rich or live in urban centres," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO).
"These are some of the most basic requirements for human health, and all countries have a responsibility to ensure that everyone can access them," he added.
The report said that many homes, healthcare facilities and schools also still lack soap and water for washing hands. This puts the health of all people, especially young children, at risk for diseases, such as diarrhoea.
"As a result, every year 3,61,000 children under five years die due to diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and contaminated water are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid," it said.
"Safe water, effective sanitation and hygiene are critical to the health of every child and every community," said United Nations Children's Fund Executive Director Anthony Lake.
In order to decrease global inequalities, the new Sustainable Development Goals call for ending open defecation and achieving universal access to basic services by 2030.
The Indian government has also launched an ambitious Swachch Bharat campaign with making villages and cities free of open defecation as one of its primary objectives. The government is assisting households to build clean toilets.
The report found that in 90 countries progress towards basic sanitation is too slow, meaning they will not reach universal coverage by 2030.