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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

WASH in a changing world

© UNICEF/UN09155/Lynch
Shushmita Rani, 7, washes her face in the common space her family shares with nine other families. Asked what she wants to do when she grows up, Shushmita doesn’t hesitate: “As I grow older I will continue studying. I will study a lot. Then I will become a teacher and teach other children like me.”

Clean water, basic toilets and the practice of good hygiene are essential for human survival, and the foundation upon which development begins. Improving access to these basic needs has a positive impact on the growth and development of children and communities around the world.

WASH and health
Diseases related to water and sanitation are one of the major causes of death in children under five. Without access to clean water and basic toilets, and without good hygiene practices, a child’s survival, growth and development are at risk.

Over 800 children under age five die every day from preventable diarrhoea-related diseases caused by lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Undernutrition is associated with repeated diarrhoea or intestinal worm infections as a direct result of inadequate WASH conditions. A vicious cycle exists between diarrhoea and undernutrition, especially for children.

Children with diarrhoea eat less and are less able to absorb nutrients from their food; in turn, malnourishment makes them more susceptible to diarrhoea when exposed to human waste. Poor sanitation and hygiene have also been linked to stunting, which causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage. In 2014, 159 million children under five were stunted: that’s 1 in 4 children worldwide.

Millions of other children are made sick, weakened or are disabled by other water- and sanitation-related diseases and infections including cholera, malaria, trachoma, schistosomiasis, worm infestations and guinea worm disease.

WASH and education
Access to clean water and basic toilets, as well as good hygiene practices, play an important role in education.

Many children — mostly girls — spend hours every day collecting water and miss out on the opportunity to attend school. Globally, women and children spend around 200 million hours every day, collecting water. But the issue is not just lack of access to water; lack of access to basic toilets, and gender segregated toilets, in schools cause a multitude of issues. Adolescent girls are particularly affected by this, as they need a clean and private space to be able to manage their menstrual hygiene with privacy and dignity.

WASH affects more than just the ability of children to attend school. many children suffer physical and cognitive damage from water- and sanitation-related diseases that impact their performance at school and their overall educational attainment.

WASH and economics
The impact of poor WASH conditions extends beyond health and education, and impacts on the economy through health spending and labour division.

If we were able to provide basic, low cost water and sanitation facilities to countries in need, the world would save around US$263 billion a year. If everyone in the world had access, the reduction in diarrhoea-related disease alone would save $11.6 billion in health treatment costs, and would generate $5.6 billion in labour spending.



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