7 Gross (and Important) Facts You Should Know About Water & Sanitation
There’s more to the story than toilets and water bottles.
But how much do you really know about water and sanitation?
Ensuring access to clean water and proper sanitation was among the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that are furthest from being accomplished, with billions of people still lacking access to basic human needs like clean water and a safe place to poo.
Unlike many of the other global goals that saw improvements toward ending extreme poverty, the number of people facing water scarcity is actually projected to rise.
Yet, other millennium development goals — like education, food, and environment — continue to receive more attention and money.
To increase awareness and knowledge about these issues, Global Citizen has put together a list of important stats everyone should know about water and sanitation:
1/ 4.5 billion people around the world lack access to hygienic sanitation
Only 2 out of every 5 people used safely managed sanitation services in 2015, according to a 2017 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). For a toilet to be considered a “safely managed sanitation service,” it must provide a safe place for someone to defecate, be separate from another household, and the feces must be treated either on or off site.
Still, 2.3 billion people lack even basic sanitation services. Basic sanitation refers to the use of improve facilities that are not shared with other households. This does not include hanging latrines, bucket latrines, or pit latrines without a slab or platform.
2/ 844 million people lack access to clean drinking water
According to a 2017 report by UNICEF and the WHO, 884 million people still lack basic access to clean water. Basic access to safely managed drinking water means that there is at least one source of drinking water located on the premises, available when a person needs it and free from contamination. As of 2015, 71% (or 5.2 billion) of the world’s population had access to clean water it, meaning the rest either has to travel over 30 minutes to find drinking water or uses untreated water sources.
Of the millions who lack a source of drinking water, 159 million people still collect their drinking water directly from surface water sources, such as ponds, lakes or rivers. Fifty-eight percent of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa. Drinking this untreated water can increase one’s risk of ingesting bacteria, viruses and other contaminants, which can cause cramps, nausea, diarrhea and more serious and fatal illnesses.
3/ Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death for children under the age of 5
Diarrhea is deadly for young children and elderly people whose bodies are weaker at fighting off infections and coping with dehydration. Around the world, diarrhea kills more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children with HIV are 11 times more likely to die from diarrhea than a child without HIV.
Contaminated water sources from animals or sick people and food prepared by contaminated hands are major pathways for diarrhea. The causes of diarrhea shares some similarities with pneumonia, the leading cause of death among post-neonatal children, according to the WHO.
However, the link to unsafe sanitation and water sources is unique to diarrhea.
4/ 1 child under age five dies from a diarrheal disease every 1.5 minutes.
Diarrhea kills around 2,195 children each day, according to the CDC. That’s about 91 children every hour, equating to one child every minute and a half.
Of those deaths, 88% can be attributed to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient hygiene, according to UNICEF.
Deaths due to diarrhea are preventable. According to a study from 2014, the number of diarrheal deaths would fall by 34% if everyone everywhere had access to clean water, by 28% if there was universal access to adequate toilets, and by 23% if good hygiene practices were universally practiced.
5/ Almost half of people living in rural areas around the world do not have improved sanitation facilities
Although 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world fell short of the MDGs for both developed and developing regions. People living in rural areas are particularly in need of improved sanitation facilities: almost 50% do not have improved sanitation facilities, a stark difference from the 18% of people in urban areas who lack improved sanitation access.
6/ 892 million still practice open defecation
The UNICEF and WHO report defines open defecation as the disposal of human feces in open spaces — forests, bushes, bodies of water, fields, etc — or with garbage.
This practice puts women, children, and their communities at risk. Open defecation is an easy pathway toward diarrhea and related infections and is linked to stunting in children. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault when they go to the bathroom in an unprotected place, and many can injure themselves by waiting until dark to defecate.
To reach the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ending open defecation by 2030, countries and organizations must focus on behavioral and cultural changes around open defecation.
In India, where nearly half the population still doesn’t use a toilet, UNICEF has implemented programs like ‘Stop Stunting’ and ‘Take Poo to the Loo' to raise awareness of the risks of open defecation.
7/ Funding for WASH must triple to meet SDG target goals
Without more funding, the world will not reach its SDG for water and sanitation by 2030.
In worse news: in one out of every seven of these countries the use of basic sanitation is actually decreasing.
The World Band estimates that total global investments must triple to the target goal of $114 billion USD each year in order to meet the SDG requirements for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
Without this additional funding, these statistics listed above are unlikely to improve. Many more children will continue to needlessly die due to poor-quality water, bathroom facilities and hygiene practices. With more people living in cities than ever before, improved sanitation and waste management systems have never been more important.
Aid toward water and sanitation is vital, but it is also tricky. Change depends not only on increase aid funding but also on addressing unhealthy social norms and behaviors practiced around the world.
With more money and more support, we could see a world in 2030 where everyone has access to clean drinking water and everyone washes their hands.