The problem: 783 million people do not have access to clean water, their water sources are far away, unclean and unaffordable. Not having access to clean water means a lifetime of walking for water, means not being able to go to school, means constant weakness and pain through recurrent diarrhoea, means choosing between paying for water or medicines, means less chance to grow food, means HIV/AIDS medicines and vaccines are less effective, means large healthcare costs compared to relatively cheap solutions, means a cycle of poverty.

In the last century the rate of water use growth is more than twice that of  population growth. 

Sanitation is an even bigger problem than lack of water - with 2.5 billion people worldwide suffering from lack of a good enough toilet or latrine. Getting hold of clean water isn’t good enough if the water is being made dirty because there are no toilets, and toilets aren’t good enough if there is no hygiene promotion to get whole communities to change the habits of generations and use the latrines.

Sanitation refers to the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human waste.  Basically, we're talking about toilets, or versions of toilets such as latrines.  Most developed countries are well equipped with flush toilets, however in developing countries, sanitation is based around much more basic facilities that are often little more than a hole in the ground.  Design is not important, as long as the facilities in question dispose of waste in a hygienic way.  2.5 billion people - over one third of the world's population - lack access to sanitation facilities.  That's almost twice the number of people living in extreme poverty. Sanitation is also one of the world's leading cause of disease and child death.

Sanitation is crucial to global health. But sanitation suffers from political neglect at every level. There is a sense of shame and stigma attached to the issue that prevents it from being a high profile political issue.

Human waste is full of dangerous bacteria that can cause diseases like cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and ascariasis. When waste is not properly managed, it can come into contact with skin, water, insects and other things that ultimately transfer the bacteria back into the human body where it can make people sick. 

The most common illness associated with poor sanitation is diarrhea.  In developed countries, diarrhea is little more than a nuisance, but for millions of children in the developing world, it's a death sentence. 

The primary purpose of good sanitation is health (through disease prevention).  Despite the overwhelming importance of sanitation, the world is far behind in providing universal access to safe and hygienic toilets, and the poor are the overwhelming majority of those who miss out.

Getting sanitation right can have a positive effect on economic growth. In parts of Africa, half the hospital beds at any one time can be filled with people suffering from diarrheal diseases. Because of the high financial burden of poor sanitation, on individuals, businesses and healthcare systems, adequate investments in sanitation could provide an estimated additional 3% economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

Improved sanitation in developing countries typically yields about USD $9 worth of economic benefit for every USD $1 spent, an impressive ratio.  The benefits include saving time, reducing direct and indirect health costs, increasing the return on investments in education, and safeguarding water resources. The first element, saving time, should not be underestimated in its contribution to economic benefits in the developing world. People without toilets at home spend a great deal of time each day queuing for public toilets or looking for secluded places to defecate. The World Health Organization estimates this time has an economic value of well over USD 100 billion each year. Moreover, girls attendance in schools accelerates when it improves its sanitation system. So addressing sanitation does not only bring about valuable health benefits, it frees up individuals' time so they can do more productive things, like earning income, than searching for a quiet spot to relieve themselves. 

This video first aired at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City on September 29, 2012


DIRECTED BY Jonathan Olinger and Michael Trainer SERIES CREATIVE DIRECTOR Michael Trainer WRITERS Lindsay Branham, Jonathan Olinger NARRATED BY Blair Underwood PRODUCED BY DTJ (

PRODUCER Lindsay Branham EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Michael Trainer CINEMATOGRAPHY Ricky Norris, Jonathan Olinger, charity: water ORIGINAL SCORE Ryan O'Neal ASSOCIATE PRODUCER Adam Butterfield LEAD EDITOR Jonathan Olinger EDITORS Mo Scarpelli, Lindsay Branham VISUAL EFFECTS Dan DiFelice MOTION GRAPHICS Dan Johnson COLOR Matt Fezz SOUND DESIGN Ben Lukas Boysen SOUND MIX Charles de Montebello, CDM Studios, NYC SCRIPT CONSULTANT Taylor Bruce ADDITIONAL FOOTAGE BY DTJ VOICE OVER RECORDING Margarita Mix, Hollywood VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO: charity: water, Jane Rosenthal, Nancy Lefkowitz,Cody Irizarry.



Defeat Poverty

Introduction to the crisis of clean water & sanitation