WASH (or Watsan, WaSH) is an acronym that stands for "water, sanitation and hygiene". It is used widely by non-governmental organizations and aid agencies in developing countries. The purposes of providing access to WASH services include achieving public health gains, improving human dignity in the case of sanitation, implementing the human right to water and sanitation, reducing the burden of collecting drinking water for women, reducing risks of violence against women, improving education and health outcomes at schools and health facilities, and reducing water pollution. Access to WASH services is also an important component of water security. Universal, affordable and sustainable access to WASH is a key issue within international development and is the focus of the first two targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6). Targets 6.1 and 6.2 aim at equitable and accessible water and sanitation for all. In 2017 it was estimated that 2.3 billion people live without basic sanitation facilities and 844 million people live without access to safe and clean drinking water.
The WASH-attributable burden of disease and injuries has been studied in depth. Typical diseases and conditions associated with lack of WASH include diarrhea, malnutrition and stunting, in addition to neglected tropical diseases. Lack of WASH poses additional health risks for women, for example during pregnancy, or in connection with menstrual hygiene management. Lack of sanitation contributes to about 700,000 child deaths every year due to diarrhea, mainly in developing countries. Chronic diarrhea can have long-term negative effects on children, in terms of both physical and cognitive development. Still, collecting precise scientific evidence regarding health outcomes that result from improved access to WASH is difficult due to a range of complicating factors. Scholars suggest a need for longer-term studies of technology efficacy, greater analysis of sanitation interventions, and studies of combined effects from multiple interventions in order to better analyze WASH health outcomes.
Access to WASH needs to be provided at the household level but also in non-household settings like schools, healthcare facilities, workplaces (including prisons), temporary use settings, mass gatherings, and for dislocated populations. In schools, group handwashing facilities and behaviors are a promising approach to improve hygiene. Lack of WASH facilities at schools can prevent students (especially girls) from attending school, reducing their educational achievements and future work productivity.
Challenges for providing WASH services include providing services to urban slums, failures of WASH systems (e.g. leaking water distribution systems), water pollution and the impacts of climate change. Planning approaches for better, more reliable and equitable access to WASH include: National WASH plans and monitoring (including gender mainstreaming), integrated water resources management (IWRM) and, more recently, improving climate resilience of WASH services. Adaptive capacity in water management systems can help to absorb some of the impacts of climate-related events and increase climate resilience.: 25 Stakeholders at various scales, i.e. from small urban utilities to national governments, need to have access to reliable information which details regional climate and climate change.
The concept of WASH groups together water supply (access to drinking water services), sanitation, and hygiene because the impact of deficiencies in each area overlap strongly (WASH is an acronym that uses the first letters of "water, sanitation and hygiene"). WASH consists of access to drinking water services, sanitation services and hygiene.
Drinking water services
A "safely managed drinking water service" is "one located on premises, available when needed and free from contamination". The terms '"improved water source" and "unimproved water source" were coined in 2002 as a drinking water monitoring tool by the JMP of UNICEF and WHO. The term "improved water source" refers to "piped water on premises (piped household water connection located inside the user's dwelling, plot or yard), and other improved drinking water sources (public taps or standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater collection)".
Access to drinking water is included in Target 6.1 of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), which states: "By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all". This target has one indicator: Indicator 6.1.1 is the "Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services". In 2017, 844 million people still lacked even a basic drinking water service.: 3 In 2019 it was reported that 435 million people used unimproved sources for their drinking water, and 144 million still used surface waters, such as lakes and streams.
Groundwater provides critical freshwater supply, particularly in dry regions where surface water availability is limited. Globally, more than one-third of the water used originates from underground. In the mid-latitude arid and semi-arid regions lacking sufficient surface water supply from rivers and reservoirs, groundwater is critical for sustaining global ecology and meeting societal needs of drinking water and food production. The demand for groundwater is rapidly increasing with population growth, while climate change is imposing additional stress on water resources and raising the probability of severe drought occurrence.
The anthropogenic effects on groundwater resources are mainly due to groundwater pumping and the indirect effects of irrigation and land use changes.
Groundwater plays a central role in sustaining water supplies and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sanitation systems are grouped into several types: The ladder of sanitation services includes (from lowest to highest): open defecation, unimproved, limited, basic, safely managed.: 8 A distinction is made between sanitation facilities that are shared between two or more households (a "limited service") and those that are not shared (a "basic service"). The definition of improved sanitation facilities is: Those facilities designed to hygienically separate excreta from human contact.: 8
With regards to toilets, improved sanitation includes the following kind of toilets: Flush toilet, connection to a piped sewer system, connection to a septic system, flush or pour-flush to a pit latrine, pit latrine with slab, ventilated improved pit latrine, composting toilet.
Access to sanitation services is included in Target 6.2 of Sustainable Development Goal 6 which is: "By 2030, 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." This target has one indicator: Indicator 6.2.1 is the "Proportion of population using (a) safely managed sanitation services and (b) a hand-washing facility with soap and water".
In 2017, 4.5 billion people did not have toilets at home that can safely manage waste despite improvements in access to sanitation over the past decades. Approximately 600 million people share a toilet or latrine with other households and 892 million people practice open defecation.
The barriers to improving sanitation and hygiene services for all are complex and numerous, encompassing social, institutional, technical and environmental challenges. Therefore, the problem of providing access to sanitation services cannot be solved by focusing on technology alone. Instead, it requires an integrated perspective that includes planning, using economic opportunities (e.g. from reuse of excreta), and behavior change interventions.
Fecal sludge management and sanitation workers
Sanitation services would not be complete without safe fecal sludge management (FSM), which is the storage, collection, transport, treatment, and safe end use or disposal of fecal sludge.: 3 Fecal sludge is defined very broadly as what accumulates in onsite sanitation systems (e.g. pit latrines, septic tanks and container-based solutions) and specifically is not transported through a sewer.: 5 Sanitation workers are the people needed for cleaning, maintaining, operating, or emptying a sanitation technology at any step of the sanitation chain.: 2
Hygiene is a broad concept. "Hygiene refers to conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases." Hygiene is can comprise many behaviors, including handwashing, menstrual hygiene and food hygiene.: 18 In the context of WASH, handwashing with soap and water is regarded as a top priority in all settings, and has been chosen as an indicator for national and global monitoring of hygiene access. "Basic hygiene facilities" are those were people have a handwashing facility with soap and water available on their premises.: 18 Handwashing facilities can consist of a sink with tap water, buckets with taps, tippy-taps and portable basins.: 18
In the context of SDG 6, hygiene is included in the indicator for Target 6.2: "Proportion of population using [...] (b) a hand-washing facility with soap and water"
In 2017, the global situation was reported as follows: Only 1 in 4 people in low-income countries had handwashing facilities with soap and water at home; only 14% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa have handwashing facilities. Worldwide, at least 500 million women and girls lack adequate, safe, and private facilities for managing menstrual hygiene.
Approximately 40% of the world's population live without basic hand washing facilities with soap and water at home. According to the World Health Organization, over half of the people who live in rural areas in developing countries do not practice hand washing methods due to a severe lack of water and soap.
The purposes of providing access to WASH services include achieving public health gains, improving human dignity in the case of sanitation, implementing the human right to water and sanitation, reducing the burden of collecting drinking water for women, reducing risks of violence against women, improving education and health outcomes at schools and health facilities, and reducing water pollution. Access to WASH services is also an important component of water security.
Improving access to WASH services can improve health, life expectancy, student learning, gender equality, and other important issues of international development. It can also assist with poverty reduction and socio-economic development.
Equitable access to drinking water supply
Reducing inequalities in basic water, sanitation and hygiene services is a longstanding WASH sector objectives.: 11 Such inequalities are for example related to income level and gender. In 2019 in 24 countries where disaggregated data was available, basic water coverage among the richest wealth quintile was at least twice as high as coverage among the poorest quintile. For example in Bangladesh, minority ethnic groups have lower levels of access to WASH than the rest of the Bengali population. This is an aftermath of structural racial discrimination in Bangladesh, where micro-level systems, social factors, institutions, ideologies, policies, and processes contribute to unfairness against minority people.
Access to WASH services also varies internally within nations depending on socio-economic status, political power, and level of urbanization. In 2004 it was found that urban households are 30% and 135% more likely to have access to improved water sources and sanitation respectively, as compared to rural areas.
The human rights to water and sanitation prohibit discrimination on the grounds of "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status". These are all dimensions of inequality in WASH services.: 13
Dealing with inequalities of water access falls under international human rights law. In 2000, the Second World Water Forum in The Hague concluded that women are the primary users of domestic water, that women used water in their key food production roles, and that women and children were the most vulnerable to water-related disasters.
World map for Indicator 6.2.1a in 2015: Share of population using safely managed sanitation facilities
Since 1990, the Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) of WHO and UNICEF has regularly produced estimates of global WASH progress. The JMP was already responsible for monitoring the UN's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Target 7.C, which aimed to "halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation". This has been replaced in 2015 by the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), which is to "ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all" by 2030. To establish a reference point from which progress toward achieving the SDGs could be monitored, the JMP produced "Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and SDG Baselines".
The JMP is responsible for tracking progress toward the two SDG 6 targets focused on improving the standard of WASH services. In addition, the JMP collaborates with other organizations and agencies responsible for monitoring other WASH-related SDGs, including SDG Target 1.4 on improving access to basic services, SDG Target 3.9 on reducing deaths and illnesses from unsafe water, and SDG Target 4.a on building and upgrading adequate WASH services in schools.
WASH-attributable burden of diseases and injuries
Health impacts resulting from a lack of safe sanitation systems can be grouped into three categories: Direct impact (infections), sequelae (conditions caused by preceding infection) and broader well-being.: 2 The direct impacts include fecal-oral infections (through the fecal-oral route), helminth infections and insect vector diseases (see also waterborne diseases, which can contaminate drinking water). Conditions caused by preceding infection include stunting or growth faltering, consequences of stunting (obstructed labour, low birthweight), impaired cognitive function, pneumonia (related to repeated diarrhea in undernourished children), anemia (related to hookworm infections). The third category is "broader well-being" which includes: Anxiety, sexual assault (and related consequences), adverse birth outcomes as well as long-term problems such as school absence, poverty, decreased economic productivity, antimicrobial resistance.
Lack of clean water and proper sanitation can result in feces-contaminated drinking water and cause life-threatening diarrhea for infants. Most of the diseases resulting from lack of sanitation have a direct relation to poverty. For example, open defecation – which is the most extreme form of "lack of sanitation" – is a major factor in causing various diseases, most notably diarrhea and intestinal worm infections.
A report by World Health Organization in 2019 found that "the WASH-attributable disease burden amounts to 3.3% of global deaths and 4.6% of global DALYs. Among children under 5 years, WASH-attributable deaths represent 13% of deaths and 12% of DALYs. Worldwide, 1.9 million deaths and 123 million DALYs could have been prevented in 2016 with adequate WASH." An earlier study from 2002 had estimated that up to 5 million people die each year from preventable waterborne diseases.
List of diseases
Twelve diseases associated with inadequate WASH where "population attributable fractions" can be quantified:
Diseases where adverse health outcomes or injuries linked to inadequate WASH are described but not yet quantified:
- Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E
- Cyanobacterial toxins
- Lead poisoning
- Spinal injury
- Neonatal conditions (see also infant mortality) and maternal outcomes (such as maternal deaths)
- Other diseases, e.g. most neglected tropical diseases
Diarrhea, malnutrition and stunting
Diarrhea is primarily transmitted through fecal-oral routes. In 2011, infectious diarrhea resulted in about 0.7 million deaths in children under five years old and 250 million lost school days. This equates to about 2000 child deaths per day. Children suffering from diarrhea are more vulnerable to become underweight (due to stunted growth). This makes them more vulnerable to other diseases such as acute respiratory infections and malaria. Chronic diarrhea can have a negative effect on child development (both physical and cognitive).
Numerous studies have shown that improvements in drinking water and sanitation WASH lead to decreased risks of diarrhea. Such improvements might include for example use of water filters, provision of high-quality piped water and sewer connections. Diarrhea can be prevented - and the lives of 525,000 children annually be saved (estimate for 2017) - by improved sanitation, clean drinking water, and hand washing with soap. In 2008 the same figure was estimated as 1.5 million children.
The combination of direct and indirect deaths from malnutrition caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices was estimated by the World Health Organization in 2008 to lead to 860,000 deaths per year in children under five years of age. The multiple interdependencies between malnutrition and infectious diseases make it very difficult to quantify the portion of malnutrition that is caused by infectious diseases which are in turn caused by unsafe WASH practices. Based on expert opinions and a literature survey, researchers at WHO arrived at the conclusion that approximately half of all cases of malnutrition (which often leads to stunting) in children under five is associated with repeated diarrhea or intestinal worm infections as a result of unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene.
Diarrhea, also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having at least three loose, liquid, or watery bowel movements each day. It often lasts for a few days and can result in dehydration due to fluid loss. Signs of dehydration often begin with loss of the normal stretchiness of the skin and irritable behaviour. This can progress to decreased urination, loss of skin color, a fast heart rate, and a decrease in responsiveness as it becomes more severe. Loose but non-watery stools in babies who are exclusively breastfed, however, are normal.The most common cause is an infection of the intestines due to either a virus, bacterium, or parasite—a condition also known as gastroenteritis. These infections are often acquired from food or water that has been contaminated by feces, or directly from another person who is infected. The three types of diarrhea are: short duration watery diarrhea, short duration bloody diarrhea, and persistent diarrhea (lasting more than two weeks, which can be either watery or bloody). The short duration watery diarrhea may be due to cholera, although this is rare in the developed world. If blood is present, it is also known as dysentery. A number of non-infectious causes can result in diarrhea. These include lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, hyperthyroidism, bile acid diarrhea, and a number of medications. In most cases, stool cultures to confirm the exact cause are not required.
Neglected tropical diseases
Approximately two billion people are infected with soil-transmitted helminths worldwide. This type of intestinal worm infection is transmitted via worm eggs in feces which in turn contaminate soil in areas where sanitation is poor.
Water, sanitation and hygiene interventions help to prevent many neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), for example soil-transmitted helminthiasis. An integrated approach to NTDs and WASH benefits both sectors and the communities they are aiming to serve. This is especially true in areas that are endemic with more than one NTD.
In August 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) unveiled a global strategy and action plan to integrate WASH with other public health interventions in order to accelerate elimination of NTDs. The plan aims to intensify control or eliminate certain NTDs in specific regions by 2020. It refers to the NTD roadmap milestones that included for example eradication of dracunculiasis by 2015 and of yaws by 2020, elimination of trachoma and lymphatic filariasis as public health problems by 2020, intensified control of dengue, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiases. The plan consists of four strategic objectives: improving awareness of benefits of joint WASH and NTD actions; monitoring WASH and NTD actions to track progress; strengthening evidence of how to deliver effective WASH interventions; and planning, delivering and evaluating WASH and NTD programmes with involvement of all stakeholders. The aim is to use synergies between WASH and NTD programmes.
Evidence regarding health outcomes
Effective sanitation separates human excreta from contact with people, and this can prevent many diseases such as (but not only) waterborne diseases. There is debate in the academic literature about the effectiveness on health outcomes when implementing WASH programs in low- and middle-income countries. Many studies provide poor quality evidence on the causal impact of WASH programs on health outcomes of interest. The nature of WASH interventions is such that high quality trials, such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs), are expensive, difficult and in many cases not ethical. Causal impact from such studies are thus prone to being biased due to residual confounding. Blind studies of WASH interventions also pose ethical challenges and difficulties associated with implementing new technologies or behavioral changes without participant's knowledge. Moreover, scholars suggest a need for longer-term studies of technology efficacy, greater analysis of sanitation interventions, and studies of combined effects from multiple interventions in order to more sufficiently gauge WASH health outcomes.
Many scholars have attempted to summarize the evidence of WASH interventions from the limited number of high quality studies. Hygiene interventions, in particular those focusing on the promotion of handwashing, appear to be especially effective in reducing morbidity. A meta-analysis of the literature found that handwashing interventions reduced the relative risk of diarrhea by approximately 40%. Similarly, handwashing promotion has been found to be associated with a 47% decrease in morbidity. However, a challenge with WASH behavioral intervention studies is an inability to ensure compliance with such interventions, especially when studies rely on self-reporting of disease rates. This prevents researchers from concluding a causal relationship between decreased morbidity and the intervention. For example, researchers may conclude that educating communities about handwashing is effective at reducing disease, but cannot conclude that handwashing reduces disease. Point-of-use water supply and point-of-use water quality interventions also show similar effectiveness to handwashing, with those that include provision of safe storage containers demonstrating increased disease reduction in infants.
Specific types of water quality improvement projects can have a protective effect on morbidity and mortality. A randomized control trial in India concluded that the provision of chlorine tablets for improving water quality led to a 75% decrease in incidences[spelling?] of cholera among the study population. A quasi-randomized study on historical data from the United States also found that the introduction of clean water technologies in major cities was responsible for close to half the reduction in total mortality and over three-quarters of the reduction in infant mortality. Distributing chlorine products, or other water disinfectants, for use in the home may reduce instances of diarrhea. However, most studies on water quality improvement interventions suffer from residual confounding or poor adherence to the mechanism being studied. For instance, a study conducted in Nepal found that adherence to the use of chlorine tablets or chlorine solution to purify water was as low as 18.5% among program households. A study on a water well chlorination program in Guinea-Bissau in 2008 reported that families stopped treating water within their households because of the program which consequently increased their risk of cholera. It was concluded that well chlorination without proper promotion and education led to a false sense of security.
Studies on the effect of sanitation interventions alone on health are rare. When studies do evaluate sanitation measures, they are mostly included as part of a package of different interventions. A pooled analysis of the limited number of studies on sanitation interventions suggest that improving sanitation has a protective effect on health. A UNICEF funded sanitation intervention (packaged into a broader WASH intervention) was also found to have a protective effect on under-five diarrhea incidence but not on household diarrhea incidence.
Additional health risks for women
Women tend to face a higher risk of diseases and illness due to limited WASH access. Heavily pregnant women face severe hardship walking to and from a water collection site. The consumption of unclean water leading to infection in the fetus accounts for 15% of deaths for women during pregnancy globally. Illnesses and diseases that can come from poor menstrual hygiene management become more likely when clean water and toilets are unavailable. In Bangladesh and India, women rely on old cloths to absorb menstrual blood and use water to clean and reuse them. Without access to clean water and hygiene, these women my experience unnecessary health problems in connection with their periods.
Health risks for sanitation workers
Occupational safety and health issues for sanitation workers include: diseases related to contact with the excreta; injuries related to the physical effort of extracting and transporting the waste, including falls from height; injuries related to cuts from non-fecal waste (e.g. glass or needles) disposed of down the toilet. There are also the general dangers of working in confined spaces, including lack of oxygen.Many sanitation workers in developing countries work without any form of personal protective equipment (PPE) and no or minimal formal training.: 9 Physical and medical conditions directly associated with sanitation work that is carried out unsafely can include: "headaches, dizziness, fever, fatigue, asthma, gastroenteritis, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, schistosomiasis, eye and skin burn and other skin irritation, musculoskeletal disorders (including back pain), puncture wounds and cuts, blunt force".: 8
In non-household settings
Non-household settings for WASH include the following six types: schools, health care facilities, workplaces (including prisons), temporary use settings, mass gatherings, and dislocated populations.
More than half of all primary schools in the developing countries with available data do not have adequate water facilities and nearly two thirds lack adequate sanitation. Even where facilities exist, they are often in poor condition. Children are able to more fully participate in school when there is improved access to water.: 24
Lack of WASH facilities can prevent students from attending school, particularly female students. Strong cultural taboos around menstruation, which are present in many societies, coupled with a lack of Menstrual Hygiene Management services in schools, results in girls staying away from school during menstruation.
Reasons for missing or poorly maintained water and sanitation facilities at schools in developing countries include lacking inter-sectoral collaboration; lacking cooperation between schools, communities and different levels of government; as well as a lack in leadership and accountability.
Outcomes from improved WASH at schools
WASH in schools, sometimes called SWASH or WinS, significantly reduces hygiene-related disease, increases student attendance and contributes to dignity and gender equality. WASH in schools contributes to healthy, safe and secure school environments that can protect children from health hazards, abuse and exclusion. It also enables children to become agents of change for improving water, sanitation and hygiene practices in their families and communities.
Data from over 10,000 schools in Zambia was analyzed in 2017 and confirmed that improved sanitation provision in schools was correlated with high female-to-male enrolment ratios, and reduced repetition and drop-out ratios, especially for girls. The study thus confirmed the linkages between adequate toilets in schools and educational progression of girls.
Methods to improve WASH in schools
Methods to improve the situation of WASH infrastructure at schools include on a policy level: broadening the focus of the education sector, establishing a systematic quality assurance system, distributing and using funds wisely. Other practical recommendations include: have a clear and systematic mobilization strategy, support the education sector to strengthen intersectoral partnerships, establish a constant monitoring system which is located within the education sector, educate the educators and partner with the school management.
The support provided by development agencies to the government at national, state and district levels is helpful to gradually create what is commonly referred to as an enabling environment for WASH in schools. This includes sound policies, an appropriate and well-resourced strategy, and effective planning. Such efforts need to be sustained over longer time periods as ministries and departments of education are very large organizations, which generally show much inertia and are slow to reform.
Success also hinges on local-level leadership and a genuine collective commitment of school stakeholders towards school development. Developing human and social capital amongst core school stakeholders is important. This applies to students and their representative clubs, headmaster, teachers and parents. Furthermore, other stakeholders have to be engaged in their direct sphere of influence, such as: community members, community-based organizations, educations official, local authorities.
Supervised daily group handwashing in schools can be an effective strategy for building good hygiene habits, with the potential to lead to positive health and education outcomes for children. This has for example been implemented in the "Essential Health Care Program" by the Department of Education in the Philippines. Mass deworming twice a year, supplemented by washing hands daily with soap and brushing teeth daily with fluoride, is at the core of this national program. It has also been successfully implemented in Indonesia.
In healthcare facilities
The provision of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene is an essential part of providing basic health services in healthcare facilities. WASH in healthcare facilities aids in preventing the spread of infectious diseases as well as protects staff and patients. WASH services in health facilities in developing countries are currently often lacking.
According to the World Health Organization, data from 54 countries in low and middle income settings representing 66,101 health facilities show that 38% of health care facilities lack improved water sources, 19% lack improved sanitation while 35% lack access to water and soap for handwashing. The absence of basic WASH amenities compromises the ability to provide routine services and hinders the ability to prevent and control infections. The provision of water in health facilities was the lowest in Africa, where 42% of healthcare facilities lack an improved source of water on-site or nearby. The provision of sanitation is lowest in the Americas with 43% of health care facilities lacking adequate services.
In 2019, WHO estimated that: "One in four health care facilities lack basic water services, and one in five have no sanitation service – impacting 2.0 and 1.5 billion people, respectively." Furthermore, it is estimated that "health care facilities in low-income countries are at least three times as likely to have no water service as facilities in higher resource settings". This is thought to contribute to the fact that maternal sepsis is twice as great in developing countries as it is in high income countries.: vii
The improvement of WASH standards within health facilities needs to be guided by national policies and standards as well as an allocated budget to improve and maintain services. A number of solutions exist that can considerably improve the health and safety of both patients and service providers at health facilities:
- Availability of safe water for drinking but also for use in surgery and deliveries, food preparation, bathing and showering: There is a need for improved water pump systems within health facilities.
- Improved handwashing practices among healthcare staff must be implemented. This requires functional hand washing stations at strategic points of care within the health facilities, i.e. at points of care and at toilets.
- Waste system management: Proper health care waste management and the safe disposal of excreta and waste water is crucial to preventing the spread of disease.
- Hygiene promotion for patients, visitors and staff.
- Accessible and clean toilets, separated by gender, in sufficient numbers for staff, patients and visitors.
In developing countries, prison buildings are very often overcrowded and dilapidated.: 12 A report by ICRC states that "Measures depriving persons of their freedom must in no way, whatever the circumstances, be made more severe by treatment or material conditions of detention which undermine the dignity and the rights of the individual.".: 12 The water supply systems and sanitary facilities in prisons are often insufficient to meet the needs of the prison population in cases where the number of detainees exceeds a prison's capacity. Overuse of the facilities results in rapid deterioration.
The budget allocated by the State for prisons is often insufficient to cover the detainees' needs in terms of food and medical care, let alone upkeep of water and sanitation facilities.: 12 Nevertheless, even with limited funds, it is possible to maintain or renovate decaying infrastructure with the right planning approaches and suitable low-cost water supply and sanitation options.
Impacts on women
Impacts on women and girls that come from lack of proper facilities include the burden of time required to collect water from distant water sources when there is no water access on the premises - as well as specific hygiene and privacy needs related to menstruation, pregnancy, and birth. There are also restrictive gender norms for water-related occupations. Violence against women is another problem that can come from the fact that to access water or toilets women might have to leave the premises and travel some distances, often alone or in the dark.
Time required to collect water
The lack of accessible, sufficient, clean and affordable water supply has adverse impacts specifically related to women in developing nations. It is estimated that 263 million people worldwide spent over 30 minutes per round trip to collect water from an improved source.: 3 In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls carry water containers for an average of three miles each day, spending 40 billion hours per year on water collection (walking to the water source, waiting in line, walking back).: 14 The time to collect water can come at the expense of education, income generating activities, cultural and political involvement, and rest and recreation.: 2 For example, in low-income areas of Nairobi, women carry 44 pound containers of water back to their homes, taking anywhere between an hour and several hours to wait and collect the water.: 733
In many places of the world, getting and providing water is considered "women's work," so gender and water access are intricately linked.: 256 Water gathering and supply to family units remains primarily a woman's task in less developed countries where water gathering is considered a main chore.: 256 This water work is also largely unpaid household work based on patriarchal gender norms and often related to domestic work, such as laundry, cooking and childcare.: 5 Areas that rely on women to primarily collect water include countries in Africa, South Asia and in the Middle East.: 4
Gender norms for occupations
Gender norms can negatively affect how men and women access water through such behavior expectations along gender lines—for example, when water collection is a woman's chore, men who collect water may face discrimination for performing perceived women's work. Women are likely to be deterred from entering water utilities in developing countries because "social norms prescribe that it is an area of work that is not suitable for them or that they are incapable of performing well".: 13 Nevertheless, a study by World Bank in 2019 has found that the proportion of female water professionals has grown in the past few years.: x
In many societies, the task of cleaning toilets falls to women or children, which can increase their exposure to disease.: 19
Violence against women
Women and girls usually bear the responsibility for collecting water, which is often very time-consuming and arduous, and can also be dangerous for them. Women and girls who collect water may also face physical assault and sexual assault along the way (violence against women). This includes vulnerability to rape when collecting water from distant areas, domestic violence over the amount of water collected, and fights over scarce water supply. A study in India, for example, found that women felt intense fear of sexual violence when accessing water and sanitation services. A similar study in Uganda also found that women reported to feel a danger for their security whilst journeying to toilets particularly at night.
Urban low income areas
Part of the reason for slow progress in sanitation may be due to the "urbanization of poverty", as poverty is increasingly concentrated in urban areas. Migration to urban areas, resulting in denser clusters of poverty, poses a challenge for sanitation infrastructures that were not originally designed to serve so many households, if they existed at all.
There are three main barriers to improvement of urban services in slum areas: Firstly, insufficient supply, especially of networked services. Secondly, there are usually demand constraints that limit people's access to these services (for example due to low willingness to pay). Thirdly, there are institutional constraints that prevent the poor from accessing adequate urban services.
Climate change poses increased risk to WASH systems, particular in Sub-Saharan Africa where access to safely managed basic sanitation is low. In Sub-Saharan Africa poorly managed WASH systems and widespread informal settlements with limited access to water and sanitation infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as more droughts and floods. Changes in the frequency and intensity of climate extremes could compound current challenges as water availability becomes uncertain, and health risks increase due to contaminated water sources. The effects of climate change can cause in a decrease of water availability, an increase of water necessity, damage to WASH facilities, increased water contamination from pollutants, etc.
In terms of the hydrological cycle, climate change can affect the amounts of soil infiltration, deeper percolation, and hence groundwater recharge. Also, rising temperature increases evaporative demand over land, which limits the amount of water to replenish groundwater.
It is important to understand the impacts of the current climate variability on water security and WASH and to build resilience. This forms the basis for understanding future changes in climate variability, and then responding to their possible impacts.
Failures of WASH systems
The failures of water supply systems (including water points, wells and boreholes) and sanitation systems have been well documented. Many water and sanitation systems are unsustainable, failing to provide extended health benefits to communities in the long-term. This has been attributed to financial costs, inadequate technical training for operations and maintenance, poor use of new facilities and taught behaviors, and a lack of community participation and ownership. The poorest populations often cannot afford fees required for operation and maintenance of WASH infrastructure, preventing them from benefitting even when systems do exist.
Leaks in water distribution systems
Improper management of water distribution systems in developing nations can exacerbate the spread of water-borne diseases. About 25%-45% of water in distribution lines is lost through leaks in developing countries. These leaks can allow for contaminated water and pathogens to enter the distribution pipes, especially when power outages result in a loss of pressure in the water supply pipes. Cross-contamination of wastewater into potable water lines has resulted in major disease outbreaks, such as a Typhoid fever outbreak in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 1997.
Working conditions of sanitation workers
A sanitation worker (or sanitary worker) is a person responsible for cleaning, maintaining, operating, or emptying the equipment or technology at any step of the sanitation chain.: 2 This is the definition used in the narrower sense within the WASH sector. More broadly speaking, sanitation workers may also be involved in cleaning streets, parks, public spaces, sewers, stormwater drains, and public toilets. Another definition is: "The moment an individual’s waste is outsourced to another, it becomes sanitation work.": 4 Some organizations use the term specifically for municipal solid waste collectors, whereas others exclude the workers involved in management of solid waste (rubbish, trash) sector from its definition.Sanitation workers are essential in maintaining safe sanitation services in homes, schools, hospitals, and other settings and protecting public health but face many health risks in doing so, including from exposure to a wide range of biological and chemical agents. Additionally, they may be at risk of injury from heavy labor, poor and prolonged postures and positions and confined spaces, as well as psychosocial stress. These risks are exacerbated under conditions of poverty, illness, poor nutrition, poor housing, child labor, migration, drug and alcohol abuse, discrimination, social stigma and societal neglect. In many developing countries, sanitation workers are more vulnerable due to unregulated or unenforced environmental and labor protections, and lack of occupational health and safety.
National WASH plans and monitoring
UN-Water carries out the "Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS)" initiative. This work examines the "extent to which countries develop and implement national policies and plans for WASH, conduct regular monitoring, regulate and take corrective action as needed, and coordinate these parallel processes with sufficient financial resources and support from strong national institutions." In 2019 it was found that many countries' WASH plans are not supported by the necessary financial and human resources. This hinders their implementation and intended outcomes for WASH service delivery.
Improving climate resilience of WASH services
Climate-resilient water services (or "climate-resilient WASH") provide access to high quality drinking water during all seasons and even during extreme weather events. To ensure climate resilience for water supplies, consideration of infrastructure and management decisions, at both community and household level, are essential.
Management decisions to protect and treat the water can mediate the influence of weather on microbial water quality. Where access to the water on-premises is not available, drinking water quality at the point of use (PoU) can be much worse compared to the quality at the point of collection (PoC). Correct household practices around hygiene, storage and treatment are therefore important. There are interactions between weather, water source and management, and these in turn impact on drinking water safety.
Recommendations to improve water security and increase resilience to climate risks include: Carrying out a more accurate analysis of climate risk as this will help to make climate information relevant to specific users; developing metrics for monitoring climate resilience in water systems as this will help to track progress and guide investments for water security; and using new institutional models that improve water security.
Climate resilient policies need to be developed for allocating water, keeping in mind a potentially reduced water availability in future. This requires a good understanding of the current and future hydroclimatic situation. Government staff also need improved accessibility of climate information to use this information for better water management. Future water management can also involve using additional water sources, such as groundwater.
Building capacity for climate resilience
Adaptive capacity in water management systems can help to absorb some of the impacts of climate-related events and increase climate resilience.: 25 Stakeholders at various scales, i.e. from small urban utilities to national governments, need to have access to reliable information which details regional climate and climate change.
For example, targeted climate tools can help national policy makers and sub-national practitioners to make informed decisions to improve climate resilience. These are being developed and applied in Kenya, Ethiopia and Bangladesh by REACH, a nine-year (2015-2024) global research program led by the University of Oxford and funded by the UK Government's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development in 1992 included "Women Play a central part in the provision management and safeguarding of water" as one of four principles. In 1996, Worldbank published a "Toolkit on Gender in Water and Sanitation". Gender-sensitive approaches to water and sanitation have proven to be cost effective. Water supply schemes in developing nations have shown higher success when planned and run with full participation of women in the affected communities.
The United Nations Interagency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE) established the Gender and Water Task Force in 2003. The Task Force became a UN-Water Task Force and took responsibility for the gender component of International Water for Life Decade (2005-1015). The task force's mandate ended in 2015.
The history of water supply and sanitation is the topic of a separate article.
The abbreviation "WASH" was used from the year 1988 onwards as an acronym for the "Water and Sanitation for Health" Project of the United States Agency for International Development. At that time, the letter "H" stood for "health", not "hygiene". Similarly, in Zambia the term WASHE was used in a report in 1987 and stood for "Water Sanitation Health Education". An even older USAID "WASH project report" dates back to as early as 1981.
From about 2001 onwards, international organizations active in the area of water supply and sanitation advocacy, such as the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) in the Netherlands began to use "WASH" as an umbrella term for water, sanitation and hygiene. "WASH" has since then been broadly adopted as a handy acronym for water, sanitation and hygiene in the international development context. The term "WatSan" was also used for a while, especially in the emergency response sector such as with IFRC and UNHCR, but has not proven as popular as WASH.
Society and culture
Important awards for individuals or organizations working on WASH include:
- The Stockholm Water Prize since 1991, with a wide-ranging view of water-related activities, along with the Stockholm Junior Water Prize and the Stockholm Industry Water Award.
- The Sarphati Sanitation Awards since 2013, for sanitation entrepreneurship.
United Nations organs
- UNICEF - UNICEF's declared strategy is "to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all". UNICEF includes WASH initiatives in their work with schools in over 30 countries.
- UN-Water - an interagency mechanism which "coordinates the efforts of UN entities and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues".
Awareness raising through observance days
The United Nation's International Year of Sanitation in 2008 helped to increase attention for funding of sanitation in WASH programs of many donors. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has increased their funding for sanitation projects since 2009, with a strong focus on reuse of excreta.
Awareness raising for the importance of WASH takes place through several United Nations international observance days, namely World Water Day, Menstrual Hygiene Day, World Toilet Day and Global Handwashing Day.
International networks and partnerships
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- Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
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- Sustainable Sanitation Alliance
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