Sanitation Lags

“In our multimedia world, news reports inundate us everywhere and at any time. For example, as of 2007, there were 2.5 billion mobile phones in use. The same year, iTunes music sales exceed 2.5 billion. For its Olympic effort, China planted 2.5 billion trees in 2008. Carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants are now at roughly 2.5 billion tonnes per year. The “Idol” franchise is worth USD 2.5 billion. Sadly, 2.5 billion is also the number of people unserved by sanitation around the world. Of these roughly 0.7 billion are in India, 0.7 billion in China, 0.7 billion in Africa and the remainder in other places, including the Caribbean. In reality, “unserved” means that 2.5 billion people wake up every morning with nowhere to go to shit.”

Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council

The statistics for sanitation lag way behind those of access to safe water – with the gap coverage ranging from 29% in East Asia to 18% in sub-Saharan Africa. The 2006 UNDP report highlights that even if the MDG targets for sanitation were to be reached, there would still remain 1.8 billion people without access. The report describes the global provision of sanitation as a “ladder” – where the first rung is the most basic provision such as pit latrines and climbing up through to the top rung with the connection to tertiary wastewater treatments. Moving up the ladder has very fundamental cost implications – the US$10 billion price tag attached to the MDG is purely for achieving the first rung on the ladder, the simple pit latrine, and it is estimated that it would cost 20 times more to connect a household to a modern sewerage system – approximated at an additional cost of US$24 billion.

Statistics for sewerage coverage is generally quite poor in the developing world, with sub-Saharan Africa having access to less than 10% in rural areas for example: Togo 3%, Chad 4%, Sierra Leone 5%, Burkina Faso 6%. In the urban areas, cities such as Manila and Jakarta have between 8-10% coverage; Ghana has an sanitation coverage of just 15%, Kenya 19%, Nigeria which has the highest population in Africa has only a 35% coverage. India with a population of over a billion has just a 52% coverage in the urban areas.

% of population with basic access (2004)
Water Supply957383


Unmanageable urban areas
“Sadr City, Iraq is one of the poorest and most densely populated districts of Baghdad (2.5 million inhabitants). Clashes are frequent. The water and sanitation infrastructure needs to be overhauled, repaired or replaced. Power cuts and no maintenance have an adverse effect on the functioning of the pumping stations and water purification plants. The consequences for the people are disturbing: a large section of the population has no direct access to safe drinking water. Diseases caused by drinking polluted water and the risk of epidemics put severe pressure on the medical system, which is already overburdened.”

With an improved water supply and basic sanitation to unserved populations it is estimated that the burden of infectious diarrhoeas would be reduced by some 17 percent annually; if universal piped, well-regulated water supply and full sanitation were achieved, this would reduce the burden by 70 percent annually. Without proper sanitation and useable water the efforts towards sustainable development in health, education and livelihoods are negated, further locking people into a cycle of poverty and disease.

Why are the targets in sanitation not being met?

“The Global Water Partnership estimated in 2000 that, while USD 13 billion was spent by donors on water, just USD 1 billion was committed to sanitation. More recent figures from the Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO and UNICEF suggest a proportion of eight to one. With 2.5 billion people lacking sanitation, but 894 million lacking good drinking water, more investment is needed in sanitation. Why has sanitation been the “orphan child” in WATSAN (water and sanitation) funding and programmes?”

The reasons:

  • Inadequate political leadership – although public policies on sanitation are just as important as economic management, defence or trade for example, sanitation is not seen as a priority area for governments
  • Poverty – the poor do not have the financial capacity to develop or make use of sanitation facilities or the political influence on policy makers or use of financial resources
  • Household demand and gender inequality – it is generally women who attach more importance to sanitation issues than men, however, women have limited decision-making power within the household and their priorities carry less weight in household budgeting
  • Stigma around the subject of human waste