Unclean water and a lack of basic sanitation are undermining efforts to end extreme poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa faces some of the biggest challenges: only 68% of individuals living in the region have access to an improved water source and only 30% of individuals have access to improved sanitation services; nearly half of all people using unimproved sources live in sub-Saharan Africa (while one-fifth live in South Asia).
Together, unclean water and poor sanitation are a leading cause of child mortality. An estimated 800 children die every day from diarrhea, spread through poor sanitation and hygiene. Research suggests that in sub-Saharan Africa women and girls in low-income countries spend 40 billion hours per year collecting water. Furthermore, time spent gathering water around the world translates to $24 billion in lost economic benefits each year. On average, women and girls in developing countries walk six kilometers each day to collect water – time which could be spent in school or at work.
Goal six of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals sets the target to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all; and to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
The links between a lack of water and sanitation access and development goals are clear, and the solutions
to the problem are known and cost-effective. It is estimated that every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates $4 in increased productivity. Universal access to water and sanitation would result in an estimated $32 billion in economic benefits per year globally from reductions in health care costs and increased productivity from reduced illness.
In Kenya alone, the cost of poor sanitation totals $324 million per year. This trend exists across Africa, improving water and sanitation across the continent would free up billions of dollars for countries to spend on other important development priorities. In addition, adequate water and sanitation facilities will increase the number of children, particularly girls, who are able to stay in school. It will reduce the amount of time women in the developing world have to spend collecting water, and free them up to participate in other income generating activities.