Lack of sanitation is the greatest cause of infection. Only 62% of the world’s population has access to improved sanitation, which is defined as a sanitation facility that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. 1.2 billion people have no facilities at all. The majority of the illness in the world is caused by fecal matter. At any one time, more than half of the poor in the developing world are ill from causes related to hygiene, sanitation and water supply. 88% of cases of diarrhea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene. Of the 60 million people added to the world’s towns and cities every year, most occupy impoverished slums and shanty-towns with no sanitation facilities.(1)
It is estimated that improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrhea-related deaths in young children by more than one-third. Additionally, teaching proper hand washing could reduce the number of deaths by two thirds. It would also help accelerate economic and social development in countries where sanitation is a major cause of lost work and school days because of illness.(2)
There have been successful projects demonstrating the positive outcomes of investing in sanitation systems. Professor Mauricio Barreto and colleagues from Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil, have shown that urban sanitation is a highly effective health measure. In 1997, the city of Salvador implemented a city-wide sanitation project called Bahia Azul with the objective of increasing the number of households with an adequate sewer system from 26% to 80%. The goal was to also extend the sewerage network, and to improve water supply and capacity building in ten smaller towns. The health impact of the program was studied to determine whether diarrhea was reduced in children under the age of three years old. The overall prevalence of diarrhea fell by 22%; in high-risk poor sanitation areas, the prevalence fell by 43%.(3)
Often, sewer systems are most needed, and household toilets are not as vital. The typical costof a sewer system iis $160 USD per person. Low-income families cannot afford to invest in sewage systems, but it is a basic necessity for healthy and productive livelihood.(4) It is imperative that governments and organizations take on more responsibility to ensure that the poorest of the poor have access to basic sanitation.