Sanitation and Hygiene

Millions lack menstrual hygiene and vital hand washing facilities. Diarrheal disease, largely caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene, is a leading cause of malnutrition, stunting and preventable child mortality, claiming around 561,000 lives of children under five annually. Inadequate facilities also affect education and economic productivity and impact the dignity and personal safety of women and girls.

With so many solutions at hand, the continuing deprivation of so many is a shameful reflection of our society’s priorities. In 1840, the “global sanitary revolution” transformed life in Europe and other parts of the developed world. In fact, it actually furthered the economic transformation, by making those societies cleaner and healthier. But many countries still await a sanitation revolution.

Donor agencies, specialized organizations and governments do not invest enough in sanitation and hygiene. They often fail to recognize that such investments are strategic multipliers, or change agents for the host of ills described above. Yet, large-scale sanitation programme interventions are crucial to the economic development and future of these affected populations. Without proper sanitation, people cannot attain a proper education or avoid preventable disease, and their nutrition and health are impacted. Whilst the case for investing in sanitation and water is compelling, the sector remains neglected and under-funded. And the linked challenges are complex. Fresh water is a scarce resource and the costs of exploiting it and maintaining existing sanitation and water systems are increasing. Urbanization increases the complexity of technical, political and financial challenges of service delivery, especially in rapidly expanding slums and informal settlements.

Fortunately, in developing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for the 2016-2030 period, UN Member States have recognized that good sanitation and hygiene (SDG 6,  Target 6.2) have positive, knock-on effects for eight other goals. Specifically, these are goals to end poverty and hunger, create healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality, foster sustainable growth, reduce inequality and develop sustainable cities.

Sanitation transforms lives. Nearly one billion people still defecate in the open, without access to even basic toilets or handwashing facilities. Improved sanitation, hygiene and safe water save millions of lives, accelerate economic growth, enhance people’s dignity, and create a better future for all.