A selection of UN TV programmes, webcasts and video clips on issues in the news

Friday, 18 November 2011

Facts about Water and Sanitation

The impacts of the global water and sanitation crisis are far-reaching. Beginning in childhood and continuing into adulthood, those impacted are often confined to lifecycles of disadvantage and poverty. Access to clean water and sanitation helps sustain communities, build livelihoods and save lives.

Facts about Water

884 million people lack access to an improved water supply

  • A person can live about a month without food, but only about a week without water.
  • At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease.
  • The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
  • While basic needs vary, the minimum threshold of water use is 20 litres per day. Factoring in bathing and laundry needs would increase this to 50 litres per day.
  • Most of the nearly 1 billion people lacking access to clean water live on about 5 litres of water a day. That’s about one tenth of the amount needed to flush a standard toilet.
  • A five minute shower using a standard showerhead uses approximately 100 litres of water. Installing a low-flow version would help reduce water usage to 35 litres for the same five minute shower.

Improved Drinking-Water Unimproved Drinking-Water
Use of the following sources:
  • Piped water into dwelling, yard or plot
  • Public tap or standpipe
  • Tubewell or borehole
  • Protected dug well
  • Protected spring
  • Rainwater collection
Use of the following sources:
  • Unprotected dug well
  • Unprotected spring
  • Car with small tank or drum
  • Tanker truck
  • Surface water (river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal, irrigation channel)
  • Bottled water*
*Bottled water is considered to be improved only when the household uses drinking water from an improved source for cooking and personal hygiene; where this information is not available, bottled water is classified on a case-by-case basis.

Facts about Sanitation

2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation

  • 1.1 billion people still defecate in the open.
  • The majority of the illness in the world is caused by fecal matter.
  • Lack of sanitation is the world’s leading cause of infection.
  • 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation – defined as a sanitation facility that ensures the hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact.
  • 88 per cent of all diseases are caused by unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and insufficient hygiene.

Improved Sanitation Unimproved Sanitation
Use of the following facilities:
  • Flush or pour-flush to:
    • Piped sewer system
    • Septic tank
    • Pit Latrine
  • Ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine
  • Pit latrine with slab
  • Composing toilet
Use of the following facilities:
  • Flush or pour-flush to elsewhere (that is,
    not piped sewer system, septic tank or
    pit latrine)
  • Pit latrine without slab/ open pit
  • Bucket
  • Hanging toilet or hanging latrine
  • Shared facilities of any type
  • No facilities, bush or field

Facts about Women and Children

Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.

  • 1.4 million children die every year as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation.
  • For children under five, water-related diseases are the leading cause of death.
  • Parasitic infection transmitted through unclean water and poor sanitation hinders learning potential for more than 150 million children.
  • Access to clean water and sanitation can reduce the risk of a child dying by as much as 50 per cent.
  • Inadequate sanitation is experienced by millions of women as a loss of dignity and source of insecurity.
  • Women shoulder the largest burden in collecting drinking water.
  • Girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely as boys of the same age to carry the responsibility of collecting water.

Facts about Productivity

Almost two-thirds of people lacking access to clean water live on less than $2 a day.

  • 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases.
  • Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.
  • Every $1 spend on water and sanitation creates on average another $8 in costs averted and productivity gained.
  • Lack of clean water and sanitation creates lifecycles of disadvantage – with illness and lost educational opportunities in childhood leading to poverty in adulthood.


* 2006 United Nations Human Development Report
* World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Report 2003
* WHO/UNICEF Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water 2010 Update
* World Bank, All About: Water and Health, CNN, December 18, 2007
* WHO/UNICEF 2008 Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation
* Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) A Guide to Investigating One of the Biggest Scandals of the Last 50 Years
* WHO Safe Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health

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