|Millions of people rely on unsafe and unhygienic sanitation facilities like these hanging latrines in Bangladesh.
|Credit: WaterAid / Adam Hart-Davis
Clean water is essential for life, but one in eight of the world’s population does not have access to it. This, and lack of safe sanitation, result in over two million people dying from water-related diseases every year. The lack of clean water close to people’s homes also affects people’s time, livelihoods and quality of life.
Sanitation can be defined as access to safe, clean and effective human urine and faeces disposal facilities. Worldwide, 2.5 billion people live without this essential service and the resulting diarrhoeal diseases kill almost 4,000 children a day.
To gain the full benefits of safe water and sanitation communities also need to know about the links between diseases and unsafe hygiene practices. Hygiene education focuses on issues such as personal hygiene – the simple act of washing hands with soap and water can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by a third.
Poor sanitation and bad hygiene can result in the contamination of water sources with millions of disease causing micro-organisms. These micro-organisms work in different ways to incapacitate infected individuals.
The most obvious benefit of access to safe water and sanitation is a reduction in disease. But the economic position of poor families is often dramatically improved when they gain access to these basic services.
In developing countries poor water and sanitation affects the lives of women and children the most. It impacts on women’s time, health, education and family relations.
Without safe water and sanitation, life for children in developing countries can be very hard. They are often at risk from disease and are unable to attend school.
In many of the countries where WaterAid works life expectancy is frighteningly low. Those who do live into old age face increasing problems as they may become more vulnerable to diseases associated with poor hygiene and sanitation, and they may find it more difficult to collect water or squat in a latrine.
The struggle to gain access to clean, safe water and basic sanitation facilities is even greater for those contending with physical disability. Collecting water or using standard sanitation facilities is so much harder, and often impossible, for those in wheelchairs, with impaired vision, or simply frail and infirm as a result of illness or old age.
Safe water, sanitation and hygiene promotion are essential in protecting and caring for people who are living with HIV and other chronic illnesses. They are often more at risk from diarrhoea and need plenty of safe drinking water for drug treatment to be effective.
The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are international targets to halve world poverty by 2015, agreed upon by all 189 United Nations member states at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.
Our work makes a significant contribution to reaching the goals especially through actions to halve the proportion of people without access to safe water and sanitation, which are specific targets within goal seven.