by Jeremy P. Feakins
Sanitation has been improving worldwide since 1990, but 2.3 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Poorly managed waste leads not only to unsafe drinking water, but to food irrigated with wastewater and breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects. The result is deaths from diarrhea (still a leading worldwide cause of death, particularly in children under the age of 5), malnutrition, parasites, cholera, dysentery, and more.
WHO estimates that for every $1 invested in sanitation, there is a $5 gain from lower health care costs, gained productivity, and reduction in premature deaths. For example, improved water, sanitation, and hygiene could prevent the deaths of more than 360,000 children under 5 per year. Part of the challenge lies in educating local governments and the public not only how to manage wastewater properly, but also the enormous importance of doing so.
WHO and its partners have already developed guides for Sanitation Safety Planning and Guidelines for Safe Use of Wastewater, and more are in process. WHO, UNICEF, and others have set a goal of ending preventable childhood deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea by 2025. To read more about this important work, read WHO’s updated Sanitation fact sheet here.