WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
The health and socio-economic benefits of safely managed water can only be fully realized alongside safely managed sanitation and good hygiene practices. Without water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), people’s wellbeing, dignity and opportunities are severely compromised, particularly women and girls’.
Access to water and sanitation are human rights. Hygiene knowledge and facilities are life-saving, highly cost-effective health interventions. Governments must take a rights-based, integrated approach to expanding access to these vital services.
The issue explained
Billions have no access to WASH. Enormous numbers of people, the vast majority in low income countries, have no access to safely managed water and sanitation, or to handwashing facilities with soap or alcohol-based rub. Refugees and migrants often spend long periods without access.
Inadequate WASH is a major killer. Inadequate WASH devastates public health. The infectious diseases that spread through unsafe water, from improperly disposed human waste and poor hygiene practices have a profound effect on high rates of infant mortality, malnutrition and chronic illness in the general population.
Water fetching is women’s work. For many communities without safely managed water, sources are usually far from their homes, and it typically falls to women and girls to spend much of their time and energy fetching water, a task which often exposes them to abuse and attack.
Poor sanitation and hygiene endangers women and girls. Going to the toilet outside, or in facilities shared with men, puts women and girls in danger. Lack of good hygiene knowledge or facilities prevents effective menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and can lead to serious health problems.
Lack of WASH perpetuates inequality. Women, girls, older people and disabled people are precluded from full participation in public spaces, workplaces and education by inadequate or non-existent WASH facilities.
The way forward
WASH is critical to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Safely managed water and sanitation services and adequate and equitable hygiene for all will drive progress across the 2030 Agenda, particularly in health, gender equality and livelihoods.
WASH is a defence against COVID-19. Governments must address the lack of WASH in healthcare facilities to help control the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, cholera and typhoid, and provide a safe environment for staff and patients.
WASH must be central to climate adaptation plans. Governments must ensure that water and sanitation services and hygiene behaviours and facilities can withstand and be sustained during and after climate-related disasters, helping to protect public health in an uncertain future.
WASH can drive economic growth. Investment in WASH generates positive returns in reduced medical burden and increased productivity, removes barriers to marginalized groups’ participation in society, and creates long-term jobs.
Facts and Figures
- Today, 1 in 4 people – 2 billion people – around the world lack safe drinking water. (WHO/UNICEF 2021)
- Almost half of the global population – 3.6 billion people – lack safe sanitation. (WHO/UNICEF 2021)
- 494 million people still practise open defecation. (WHO/UNICEF 2021)
- 1 in 3 people – 2.3 billion people – around the world lack basic handwashing facilities at home. (WHO/UNICEF 2021)
- Achieving universal access to safely managed sanitation by 2030 will require, on average, a four-fold increase in current rates of progress. (UN-Water 2021)
- Almost half of the schools in the world do not have handwashing facilities with soap and water. (WHO/UNICEF 2020)
- Approximately 50 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met while keeping public health risks at a low level. (WHO, 2017)
- 207 million people spend over 30 minutes per round trip to collect water from an improved source. (WHO/UNICEF 2019)
- Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. (WHO 2019)
- Every day, over 700 children under age 5 die from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene. (UNICEF, 2021)
- Under-fives living in countries experiencing protracted conflict are 20 times more likely to die from causes linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from direct violence. (UNICEF, 2019)
- 1 million deaths each year are associated with unclean births. Infections account for 26% of neonatal deaths and 11% of maternal mortality. (WHO/UNICEF 2019)
- Hygiene promotion is the most cost-effective health intervention. (World Bank 2016)
- Loss of productivity to water- and sanitation-related diseases costs many countries up to 5% of GDP. (WHO 2012)
- Universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene would reduce the global disease burden by 10%. (WHO 2012)
- Investment in water and sanitation services generates a quantifiable, positive return on investment through saved medical costs and increased productivity:
- Urban basic drinking water: $3 return for every $1 invested.
- Urban basic sanitation: $2.5 to $1
- Rural basic drinking water: $7 to $1
- Rural basic sanitation: $5 to $1
- (Hutton et al. 2015)