Global health institutions should address the impact of sanitation

23Jun 2020
The Guardian
Global health institutions should address the impact of sanitation

In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognised access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right, and called for international efforts to help countries to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation.

Sustainable Development Goal target 6.2 calls for adequate and equitable sanitation for all. The target is tracked with the indicator of safely managed sanitation services – use of an improved type of sanitation facility that is not shared with other households and from which the excreta produced are either safely treated in situ, or transported and treated off-site. 

Some 827 000 people in low- and middle-income countries die as a result of inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene each year, representing 60 per cent of total diarrhea deaths. Poor sanitation is believed to be the main cause in some 432 000 of these deaths.

Diarrhoea remains a major killer but is largely preventable. Better water, sanitation, and hygiene could prevent the deaths of 297 000 children aged under 5 years each year.

Access to water and sanitation remains low in Tanzania. Determining data on access is particularly difficult because different definitions and sources are used, which results in significant discrepancies. In 2015, 50 per cent of the population had access to at least basic water, 79 per cent and 37 per cent of urban and rural areas, respectively.

In Tanzania, around 26 million people, in 2015, lacked access to at least basic water. Regarding sanitation around 40 million, in 2015, lacked access to at least basic sanitation. In 2015, only 24 per cent of the population had access to at least basic sanitation, 37 per cent and 17 per cent in urban and rural areas respectively.

The government has embarked on a major sector reform process since 2002 when an update was made to the National Water Policy. At that time, the central government reported that only 42 per cent of rural households had access to improved water and that 30 per cent of all water systems in the country were inoperative. An ambitious national water sector development strategy that promotes integrated water resources management and the development of urban and rural water supply was adopted in 2006.

At the historic United Nations Millennium Summit held in 2000, 189 heads of state formed a global partnership with the aim of ending extreme poverty by 2015. Sanitation, a fundamental means for preventing disease and elevating quality of life,was not explicitly included until two years later,reflecting its status as the “forgot-ten stepchild” of the Water Supply and Sanitation sector. The goal established in 2002 was to halve the number of people without access to and use of improved sanitation by 2015.

Since 2002, sanitation activists and practitioners have expanded global awareness of the critical role sanitation plays in improving human health and overall well-being. However, after many years of advocacy and increasing political willingness, sanitation remains one of the developing world’s most intractable challenges. To get back on track, roughly 200 million people per year need to begin using improved sanitation facilities.

The greatest sanitation shortages exist in South Asia, with serious shortfalls in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. On average, just half of the population in these regions uses im-proved sanitation facilities. In all, about 2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to improved sanitation, including billions who have no facilities at all and practice open def-ecation.

An estimated 76 per cent of urban dwellers use improved sanitation, compared to 45 per cent of people living in rural areas. It is difficult to overstate the dire impact of poor sanitation, particularly among young children, the poor, and those living in rural areas. Poor sanitation causes millions of people worldwide to contract fecal-borne illnesses, the most common of which are diarrhea and intestinal worms. An estimated 1.7 million people die each year because of un-safe water and sanitation and unhygienic practices. About

WSP is one of the world's leading professional services firms. It is a multi-donor partnership created in 1978 and administered by the World Bank to support poor people in obtaining affordable, safe, and sustainable access to water and sanitation services.