Access to Sanitation - The Challenges
Worldwide, about 1.7 million deaths a year – 90 percent are children – are attributed to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene, mainly through infectious diarrhea. Access to sanitation, the practice of good hygiene, and unsafe water supply could save 1.5 million children a year.
In Sub-Saharan Africa there are over 200 million more people without sanitation than there were two decades ago, as improvements fail to keep up with population changes. Only four countries in the region are on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target and, on current trends, the target will not be met until well into the next century.
Poor sanitation, water and hygiene have many other serious repercussions. Children and especially girls are denied their right to education because their schools lack improved and decent sanitation facilities. Along with lack of water for drinking and cleaning, lack of toilets is a huge sanitation problem. Improved sanitation increases primary school enrolment, reduces illness so children miss fewer school days, increases production among adults, provides safety to women and reduces the pollution of water sources.
When sanitation systems fail or are inadequate, the impacts on the health of the community on the health of others and on the environment are extremely serious. Poor sanitation promotes the spread of health problems including chronic diarrhea,bilharzia,hepatitis and the cholera epidemic which is focused on the cycle of diseases spread by human excreta. Sanitation matters for a range of reasons. Privacy, dignity, convenience and safety for individuals.
In many cases, improving sanitation can be as simple as installing a well- designed ventilated improved pit latrine (VIP) or composing latrine. However, in other cases, improving sanitation will be more challenging, particularly in rapidly growing urban slums. Moreover, while building improved sanitation facilities is a crucial health intervention, the full health benefits will not be realized without proper maintenance of the facilities and good personal hygiene.
Improved access and coverage cannot be achieved in the whole world using the conventional water based sewer systems. There is need to develop more innovative onsite sanitation systems which do not pollute the environment and water resources. The available portable water is too expensive to be used for flushing toilets. The future lies on innovative dry toilets which can be used to recover phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen for use in agriculture. The technologies must go beyond the toilets and include emptying, transportation, storage, treatment and disposal of sludge.
Sanitation is intrinsically linked to poverty reduction. It doesn’t take great analytical skills to work out that lack of sanitation affects the poor by an order of magnitude so great that it’s shameful. As Ban Ki-moon noted “Access to sanitation is deeply connected to virtually all the Millennium Development Goals, in particular those involving the environment, education, gender equality, the reduction of child mortality and poverty.”