This article is written by Kevin Rudd - Former Australian Prime Minister, current Chair of Sanitation and Water for All and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute 

In the Western world, we tend to think that water and toilets are a standard part of life. They are quite simply ‘a given’.

However, for millions of people around the world clean water and toilets, or the lack thereof, are a deadly serious issue.

The shocking fact is that every day 1,400 children around the world die from something as simple as diarrhea, which is mainly caused by unsafe water, and poor sanitation and hygiene.  This makes diarrheal diseases the most common cause of childhood illness and the second leading killer disease in children under five.

Globally, 2.4 billion people lack access to basic toilets. 663 million people still use unimproved drinking water sources which are more likely to be contaminated by human waste and other pollutants. Nearly 40% of health care facilities in low and middle-income countries lack any water supply, and poor sanitation causes over a quarter million deaths annually.

In addition to undermining human health and dignity, lost working days due to poor sanitation cost the global economy approximately $4 billion USD per year.

As formidable as these water and sanitation challenges are, there has been real progress over past few decades. 2.6 billion people have gained access to an improved drinking water source since 1990, meeting the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved drinking water sources.

While we’ve made a lot of progress, there’s still work to be done to address the global water and sanitation crisis.

One way that we can start taking action is by raising awareness.

March 22nd marked World Water Day, an international observance that brings attention to the global water crisis. The theme for World Water Day this year was “Better Water, Better Jobs.” This is because almost 58% of the world’s population spend a third of their adult life at work. That’s a lot of people!

This year, we’re turning our attention to what the private sector can do to increase universal access to clean water and sanitation. The WASH4work initiative, spearheaded by 11 prominent organisations in the water and sanitation sector, notes that businesses are increasingly addressing water and sanitation in the workplace, often within the broader context of mainstreaming water stewardship, improving worker welfare and the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation. However, to meet the ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals more needs to be done, especially to reach women and girls, which inadequate access to water and sanitation affects the most.

Businesses can and should do a number of things to ensure adequate WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) in the workplace:

1.     They should understand and respond to the impacts that poor WASH has on business operations.

2.     Ensure all employees have access to clean drinking water, gender-separated toilets and appropriate hygiene in the workplace and leverage influence to bring about changes in their supply chains.

3.     Work together with governments and civil society to improve WASH access for communities.

4.     Work to assess and manage risks by participating in community water safety planning.

5.     Support local and national government actions to address WASH challenges.

These are just some of the ways that the private sector can do its part to achieve universal and equitable access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for all.

Both employees and employers will benefit from an increased focus on WASH in the workplace. From an external perspective, ensuring employees have good WASH facilities reduces reputational risk and strengthens social license to operate. It improves employee morale and retention rates, as well as improving worker health, reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity. It can even promote better relations between companies and local communities.

You can take action this World Water Day by recognising companies providing and promoting clean water and sanitation for workers, in supply chains and communities. Send a supportive tweet to a company doing good work in this field, call on a company to do more, and spread the word about the importance of the private sector taking action around SDG Goal 6.

Achieving water and sanitation goals will require everyone’s efforts, but together we can, and will, make the Global Goals a reality.

This article is written by Kevin Rudd - Former Australian Prime Minister, current Chair of Sanitation and Water for All and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute 

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of each of the partners of Global Citizen.


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KEVIN RUDD: Sanitation is everyone's business - including businesses