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Water & Sanitation

Tell Canada to lead the way on water, sanitation and hygiene

UN Photo- Albert Gonzalez Farran

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 is a very real possibility, but the dire effects of poor water and sanitation currently stands in the way of achieving that goal. Water and sanitation are the most off-track target in the Millenium Development Goals. Canada has the ability to help change this, but we need you to send a tweet to make sure the government takes action. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Canada is in the best position to lead on this. Universal water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is necessary to continue saving lives, building a more equal world and ultimately, ending extreme poverty. WASH issues are critically linked to preventing, treating and eradicating diseases, as well as improving gender equality, educational accessibility and environmental sustainability.

That’s why we’re calling on Canada's federal government to show leadership on these issues by increasing funding and/or creating a specialized unit to make sure these problems are specifically addressed, to increase the effectiveness of Canada’s international development, and to amplify the need for prioritizing WASH in the post-2015 development agenda. As a leader in global health, Canada has the ability to leverage support from other countries and organizations. Canada's WASH leadership is necessary to demonstrate the urgency and strategic focus on this issue.

So what WASH targets should Canada's government strive for?:

Clean water

Clean water is necessary for the safety of mothers and children during pregnancy, childbirth and after birth. Canada’s leadership on maternal health is monumental and serves as a great example of what strong development initiatives can look like. WASH requires the same level of urgency and can be seen as the next step in addressing maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH).

Universal access to clean water would also help close the gender gap in many developing countries. The burden of collecting water falls disproportionately on women, totaling approximately 200 million hours globally. This is time that could be better spent for school, work, and leisure. The physical burden of carrying an average of 40 kg of water daily negatively affects women’s reproductive health systems (such as increasing the possibility of uterine prolapse).

Inadequate access to clean water is harmful to people’s health, and contributes to socioeconomic inequalities that - if addressed by global leaders and organizations - could free up a lot of time and human potential.

Proper and safe sanitation

Poor sanitation is a contributing factor of many health problems in developing countries. It’s one of the causes of stunting, an issue that prevents the healthy growth and development of 165 million children worldwide. It’s also a huge factor in transmitting diarrheal diseases, which are a leading cause of death in the developing world (particularly for children under five).

Addressing sanitation is absolutely critical to ending vaccine-preventable deaths completely and reducing the daily death toll of 2,000 children, because sanitation is directly related to infection rates of waterborne and diarrheal diseases.

Further, the environmental and economic implications of poor sanitation are huge. In the developing world, approximately 90% of sewage is dumped (untreated) into rivers, lakes, and oceans. This environmental damage costs billions of dollars, affecting sustainability and the economy on a global scale ($2 billion USD for South Asia alone) and damages ecosystems in the long term.

Canada’s leadership on WASH would not only be important to saving lives - it’s also a really smart economic move. For every $1 dollar invested in water and sanitation $4 is generated in work time productivity and saved in health care cost.

Improved - and less stigmatized - hygiene practices

1 in 10 school-age African girls do not attend school during menstruation (or drop out at puberty) due to lack of proper sanitation. The stigma and shame around hygiene remain huge barriers to the social, economic and emotional wellbeing of women.

1 in 3 women face shame, harassment and attack when finding a place to go - a process that consumes 97 billion hours a year for women, globally. Canadian leadership would be powerful in ensuring that hygiene is addressed in it’s development projects related to education, women’s empowerment, and ending violence against women.

In 2010, global leaders realized that the world was not doing enough for mothers and children. They committed to addressing this issue through Every Woman, Every Child, and in the last five years, their efforts have saved 2.5 million moms and kids. Canada has paved the way for this incredible progress, and this leadership should be applauded. However, when it comes to water and sanitation, the world is still not doing enough: Canada needs to take the reins again.

As we move into a critical 15 year period for addressing extreme poverty, we need to realize that the Sustainable Development Goals won’t actually be sustainable without addressing WASH.

The Global Citizen Earth Day Festival on April 18th is the perfect opportunity for Canada to announce its leadership on these issues. By tweeting, you will be telling the Canadian government - one of the world’s most important decision-makers in global health - that WASH is the key to ending extreme poverty.