We hope that last month's raising of drinking-water standards in China will help to speed up improvements in the country's sanitation. As in India, sanitation remains inadequate for a rapidly developing country (Nature 486, 185; 2012).

In 2010, 477 million people in China (36% of the population) did not have access to improved sanitation such as a ventilated pit latrine or a flush toilet piped to a sewer system (WHO/UNICEF Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation, 2012). There are national disparities as well, with 74% of people having improved access to sanitation in urban areas in 2010, but only 56% in rural areas. Provision of sanitation facilities for disabled people is sparse.

China's growing population and urbanization make sewage treatment a particular challenge. Although about 73% of urban sewage is treated (China Statistical Yearbook on Environment; 2010), more than 95% of waste water in rural areas drains untreated into rivers and lakes (X. Sun et al. Chinese Agr. Sci. Bull. 26, 384–388; 2010).

The country has now increased its surveillance of freshwater pollution so that the new drinking-water standards can be met. This should catalyse the government into investing more in nationwide sanitation improvements.