Sanitation is vital for human health

News release

Manila, 19 March 2008—World Water Day on 22 March, with this year's theme "Sanitation matters" highlights the need to understand the urgency of the threat to the public's health posed by poor or non-existent sanitation. Inadequate sanitation not only pushes already disadvantage sections of society into deeper illness, poverty and indignity, but limits the region's economic growth and human development.

Some facts:

  • An estimated 2.6 billion people—half of the developing world—lack access to improved sanitation.
  • 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera)— 90% of all deaths caused by diarrhoeal diseases are children under five, mostly in developing countries.
  • 88% of all diarrhoeal deaths are attributed to unsafe water supplies, inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

The other side of the sanitation picture is brighter:

  • Hand washing with soap is estimated to reduce the risk of contracting diarrhoeal diseases by up to 47%. It also reduces respiratory infections.
  • Improving access to safe water sources and better hygiene practices can reduce trachoma morbidity by 27%.
  • Basic sanitation reduces the number of cases of schistosomiasis, which affect an estimated 160 million people, by up to 77%.
  • Sustainable access to improved sanitation can reduce child mortality by up to 55%.

In view of these facts, WHO called on governments and partners to increase investment in improved sanitation and hygiene.

For more information, please contact Mr Terrence Thompson, WHO Regional Adviser in Environmental Health, at (632) 528 9890; e-mail: