Shocking statistics revealed in an official side event organised by WHO on March 22 and attended by India, Ethiopia, France, UNICEF, World Bank, WaterAid and London School of Hygiene
At least two billion people rely on faecal laced contaminated water sources for drinking globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted at the United Nations 2023 Water Conference in New York City on March 22, 2023.
It added that almost half of the world’s population lack safely managed sanitation services. And 29 per cent do not have a handwashing facility with soap and water at home.
Almost half of the schools in the world do not have proper handwashing facilities with soap and water. Every day, more than 700 children under the age of five die from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene.
The global health body said universal access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is critical to global health.
“On average, a four-fold increase in current rates of progress would be required to achieve universal coverage by 2030. Achieving these targets would help save 829,000 lives annually, which is currently the number of people that die from diseases directly related to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices,” according to WHO.
WHO revealed these shocking statistics on Day 1 of the event at an official side event on water and health on UN headquarter premises.
The side event explored how WASH and the health sectors can work more closely together to improve health and achieve shared aims. It saw representation from Governments of India, Ethiopia and France, UNICEF, World Bank, WaterAid and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, tweeted on the event a day later on World Water Day:
We are calling for stronger government leadership to drive change improved funding and financing, investments in workforce and institutions, better data and evidence to guide decisions, innovation and experimentation. Imagine if you were among the over two billion people, who use contaminated drinking water or half of the worlds’s population using sanitation that leaves human waste untreated. Clean water and sanitation is a basic human right for all. Let's stand up for it!
The meeting noted that the WASH burden of disease is still significant, especially in Low and Middle Income Countries.
Ensuring everyone has basic WASH services remains an essential first step. This requires substantial government investment and oversight but the health, social and economic returns are huge, it concluded.
The Ethiopian representative at the meeting noted that his country had one of the largest burdens of neglected tropical diseases (NTD), a group of debilitating diseases that affect the poorest communities, causing huge suffering and stigma.
The representative spoke about the importance of WASH to prevent and manage morbidity linked to these diseases.
He said collaboration between NTD programmes and sectors like WASH was important to improve the situation.
François Braun, France’s minister of social affairs and health, said even in countries with near universal access to WASH services, continuous investments are needed to ensure that:
Clare Chase of the World Bank also highlighted the importance of WASH infrastructure. When large WASH infrastructure breaks down, the consequences can be severe as is being seen now in the resurgence of cholera globally, she noted.
Gajendra Shekhawat, Union minister of Jal Shakti who was present at the session, cited flagship schemes undertaken by the Centre to tackle problems issues related to WASH.
India’s flagship programmes on sanitation, the Swachh Bharat mission, and now the Jal Jeevan mission, aim to achieve 100 per cent coverage of safely managed drinking water by 2024, he said.
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