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| Last Updated:: 11/05/2018

Sanitation and Environment

The Earth was home to 6 billion people in 2000: 1.1 billion of them lacked safe water and 2.4 billion lacked adequate sanitation. As a consequence, water- and sanitation-related diseases are widespread. Nearly 250 million cases are reported every year, with more than 3 million deaths annually—about 10,000 a day. Diarrheal diseases impact children most severely, killing more than 2 million young children a year in the developing world. Many more are left underweight, stunted mentally and physically, vulnerable to other deadly diseases, and too debilitated to go to school.

This situation in today’s world is humiliating, morally wrong, and oppressive. The global community has made advances in many fields but it has failed to ensure these most basic needs of deprived people. Worse still, if unprecedented global action is not taken, the lot of the poor is expected to worsen in the foreseeable future.

Water supply, sanitation and health are closely related. Poor hygiene, inadequate quantities and quality of drinking water, and lack of sanitation facilities cause millions of the world's poorest people to die from preventable diseases each year. Women and children are the main victims.

 

Water, sanitation and health are linked in many ways:

 

  • Contaminated water that is consumed may result in water-borne diseases including viral hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, dysentery and other diseases that cause diarrhea.
  • Without adequate quantities of water for personal hygiene, skin and eye infections (trachoma) spread easily.
  • Water-based diseases and water-related vector-borne diseases can result from water supply projects (including dams and irrigation structures) that inadvertently provide habitats for mosquitoes and snails that are intermediate hosts of parasites that cause malaria, schistomsomisis, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis and Japanese encephalitis.
  • Drinking water supplies that contain high amounts of certain chemicals (like arsenic and nitrates) can cause serious disease.
  • Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene account for a large part of the burden of illness and death in developing countries.
  • Lack of clean water and sanitation is the second most important risk factor in terms of the global burden of disease, after malnutrition.
  • Approximately 4 billion cases of diarrhea per year cause 1.5 million deaths, mostly among children under five.
  • Intestinal worms infect about 10% of the population of the developing world, and can lead to malnutrition, anemia and retarded growth.
  • 6 million people are blind from trachoma and the population at risk is about 500 million.
  • 300 million people suffer from malaria.
  • 200 million people are infected with schistosomiasis, 20 million of whom suffer severe consequences.

 

Poor sanitation threatens public health

 

20 MARCH 2008 | GENEVA - Sixty-two per cent of Africans do not have access to an improved sanitation facility -- a proper toilet -- which separates human waste from human contact, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. A global report will be published later this year, however, preliminary data on the situation in Africa was released today as part of World Water Day 2008. The Day, built around the theme that “Sanitation matters," seeks to draw attention to the plight of some 2.6 billion people around the world who live without access to a toilet at home and thus are vulnerable to a range of health risks.
"Sanitation is a cornerstone of public health," said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "Improved sanitation contributes enormously to human health and well-being, especially for girls and women. We know that simple, achievable interventions can reduce the risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease by a third."
Although WHO and UNICEF estimate that 1.2 billion people worldwide gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2004, an estimated 2.6 billion people - including 980 million children – had no toilets at home. If current trends continue, there will still be 2.4 billion people without basic sanitation in 2015, and the children among them will continue to pay the price in lost lives, missed schooling, in disease, malnutrition and poverty.
“Nearly 40% of the world’s population lacks access to toilets, and the dignity and safety that they provide," said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. “The absence of adequate sanitation has a serious impact on health and social development, especially for children. Investments in improving sanitation will accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and save lives.”
Using proper toilets and hand washing - preferably with soap - prevents the transfer of bacteria, viruses and parasites found in human excreta which otherwise contaminate water resources, soil and food. This contamination is a major cause of diarrhoea, the second biggest killer of children in developing countries, and leads to other major diseases such as cholera, schistosomiasis, and trachoma.
Improving access to sanitation is a critical step towards reducing the impact of these diseases. It also helps create physical environments that enhance safety, dignity and self-esteem. Safety issues are particularly important for women and children, who otherwise risk sexual harassment and assault when defecating at night and in secluded areas.
Also, improving sanitation facilities and promoting hygiene in schools benefits both learning and the health of children. Child-friendly schools that offer private and separate toilets for boys and girls, as well as facilities for hand washing with soap, are better equipped to attract and retain students, especially girls. Where such facilities are not available, girls are often withdrawn from school when they reach puberty.
In health-care facilities, safe disposal of human waste of patients, staff and visitors is an essential environmental health measure. This intervention can contribute to the reduction of the transmission of health-care associated infections which affect 5% to 30% of patients.
“The focus on sanitation is fundamental to human beings,” says Pasquale Steduto, UN-Water chairman. “The MDG target on sanitation is seriously lagging behind schedule. The entire UN System has a shared responsibility in mobilizing concrete actions towards its achievement; investments must increase immediately.” UN-Water is the coordinating mechanism of the UN agencies, programmes and funds that play a significant role in tackling global water and sanitation concerns.
World Water Day provides an opportunity to draw attention to the International Year of Sanitation 2008, a year in which the UN General Assembly in December 2006 has called for a focus on addressing sanitation and hygiene problems.

 

The International Year of Sanitation 2008 aims to raise the profile of sanitation issues on the international agenda and to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing by half the proportion of people living without access to improved sanitation by 2015. Within the UN system, the focal point for the International Year of Sanitation is the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in collaboration with the UN-Water Task Force on Sanitation.