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Millennium Development Goals: Clean water checked off list. Now back to work.

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Eranga Jayawardena/AP

(Read caption) A child bathes from a public tap in his neighborhood in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday. The World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund have announced that the world had met its 'Millennium Development Goal' of halving the proportion of the world’s population without access to safe drinking water.

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In these economic times, you take whatever good news you can get.

Last week, the World Bank announced that developing countries appear to have already met their goal of cutting global poverty rates in half by 2015. China was the driving force behind this change, as its booming economy put more and more people to work and lifted millions of its citizens out of the ranks of those who earn less than $1.25 a day.

Today, the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that the world had also met ahead of schedule the so-called Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the world’s population without access to safe drinking water. More than 2 billion people gained access to drinking water between 1990 and 2010.

Ban Ki-moon called this a “great achievement” and UNICEF director Anthony Lake said that thousands of children will be saved each day because of the improvements. But he added that there was still much to be done. At least 783 million people – 11 percent of the world’s population – rely on unsafe drinking water, including open ponds where agricultural or industrial runoff taints water quality.

Meeting goals ahead of a deadline is never a bad thing, but declaring victory before the fight is truly over can be unwise. The fact that much of the progress on halving poverty and increasing access to drinking water is due to the actions of one very large nation – China – skews the data, and hides the relative lack of progress in much of Africa, where poverty rates, infant mortality rates, and maternal mortality rates remain troublingly high, and where drinking water sources remain unimproved.

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