Module 7: Sanitation

The Sanitation Crisis

Lack of sanitation is a serious public health concern and in 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized access to safe water and sanitation as basic human rights. Nevertheless, only 62% of the world’s population has access to improved sanitation, which is defined as a sanitation facility that separates human waste from human contact. . 2.3 billion people, or one in three people worldwide, lack access to a toilet.  Without improved sanitation people must use inadequate communal latrines or practise open defecation. For women and girls, this may mean that finding a place to go to the toilet outside, often having to wait until it is dark, leaves them vulnerable to abuse and sexual assault. In addition to those risks, nearly one million people each year die from hygiene-, sanitation-, and water-related diseases. UN Water estimates that  more than 340,000 children under five die each year from diarrheal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water. In addition, up to 50% of child malnutrition is associated with unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.(1)

How will improvements impact people?

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.

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(1) “Key Water + Sanitation Facts: For use in 2018.” Accessed on 8 August 2018. See also, UN Water. “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.” Accessed on 8 August 2018. 

(2) “The Water Crisis.” Accessed on 8 August 2018. 

(3) Wellcome Trust. "Tackle Poor Sanitation In Developing Countries, Researchers Urge." November 10, 2007. ScienceDaily. Accessed 8 August 2018

(4) Ibid.