Why is sanitation important?

Sanitation is important because it prevents the development and spread of several types of disease. Sanitation involves having a clean and safe environment to live in; many people in the developing world are forced to live in slums where there is no source of clean water and no arrangements for the collection and disposal of waste.

Current situation in the developing world

In the developing world, access to safe and clean drinking water is rare; millions of people are forced to use dirty water or walk for miles each day to find a source of clean running water. Currently, water supplies are contaminated with agricultural, human and animal waste, meaning millions of people are using water which is infected with millions of different types of bacteria. Research carried out by the charity Water Aid suggests that every day, poor sanitation causes the deaths of 4,000 children in the developing world. Rubbish dumps can also contribute to the spread of bacterial and viral infections.

Waterborne diseases

Waterborne illnesses are caused by direct contact with harmful microorganisms, which are present in contaminated water supplies; often these microorganisms are ingested during drinking or indirectly by means of eating. Examples of these illnesses are outline below:

Cholera: cholera is an infectious disease, which affects the intestines and is caused by poor hygiene, poor sanitation and unclean water supplies. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea; people who have a poor standard of general health may become very ill as a result of cholera and may eventually die. Treatment can cure most cases but it must be delivered quickly. In the developing world, cholera causes about 5,000 deaths each year as medical treatment is not widely available.

Typhoid: typhoid is a bacterial infection which is spread through contact with faeces. Typhoid is common in the developing world where sanitation is poor and areas are densely populated; the World Health Organisation estimates that there are over 17 million cases of typhoid in the world each year. Typhoid can be prevented by good standards of hygiene and sanitation.

Illnesses spread by poor sanitation

Diarrhoeal diseases: diarrhoea is common in most parts of the world; however, it is perfectly treatable and curable in the developed world. In developing countries diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers; it primarily affects children and causes over 2 million deaths each year. Diarrhoea is caused by a lack of clean water and poor standards of hygiene and sanitation; improving water supplies and methods of waste disposal in developing countries will dramatically reduce the number of deaths resulting from diarrhoeal diseases.

Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A is a viral infection, which is caused by poor hygiene and sanitation. The virus affects the liver, causing it to swell. The prevalence of this infection could be significantly reduced by improving water sources, sanitation and personal hygiene.

The future

UN policy is aiming to halve the number of people without access to clean drinking water by the year 2015. Charities such as UNICEF and Water Aid are also committed to improving sanitation in poorer countries and are working to develop water supplies and improve technology in order to make systems more robust and resistant to natural disasters.