WASH stands for “water, sanitation and hygiene”. Universal, affordable and sustainable access to WASH is a critical public health issue within the international development construct. It is a social determinant of health and hence has a social impact measurable by the health and wellness of people and communities. There are many INGOs with a mandate to address WASH. It is the focus of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6). The first two targets of SDG 6 — Targets 6.1 and 6.2 aim at equitable and accessible water and sanitation for all.
Access to WASH covers safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene education. Improving access to WASH services can improve health, life expectancy, student learning, gender equality, and other vital international development issues. It can reduce illness and death and affect poverty alleviation and socio-economic development.
There are challenges as well as opportunities around WASH:
(1) providing services to urban slums,
(2) improper management of water distribution systems,
(3)failures of WASH systems over time (maintenance),
(4) providing equitable access to drinking water supply (rural and urban areas)
(5) gender issues.
Females bear the brunt of the problem, as in most households where WASH is an issue, they are primarily responsible for providing and using water in the homes. These services are a basic need in all communities. They are needed in household locations and schools, healthcare facilities, workplaces, markets, prisons, train stations, public areas etc.
The opportunities lie in our ability to find innovative solutions to the identified challenges to provide these much-needed WASH services, and businesses have a huge role to play.
Why WASH is Important
According to research, worldwide, 2.2 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, and more than half of the global population does not have access to safe sanitation. Three billion people do not have access to handwashing facilities with soap. Six hundred seventy-three million people still practise open defecation.
The consequences of unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) on children can be deadly. Do you know that over 700 children under age 5 die every day of diarrhoeal diseases due to the lack of appropriate WASH services? In terms of water safety, millions of people rely on water sources at high or moderate risk of fecal contamination due to a lack of toilets or poor sewer systems. The effects of climate change will only increase the threat to water quality, mainly where water is scarce or in regions prone to natural disasters.
Before we can claim access to safe water, the water must come from a reliable source like a well, a tap or a hand pump, free from fecal and chemical contamination, readily available for at least 12 hours a day, located within reasonable reach. Poor sanitation puts children at risk of childhood diseases and malnutrition that can impact their overall development, learning and, later in life, economic opportunities. The lack of sanitation can prevent individual prosperity and sustainable development.
When children, especially girls, cannot access private and decent sanitation facilities in their schools and learning environments, their right to education is threatened. Without basic sanitation services, people have no choice but to use inadequate communal latrines or practice open defecation, posing a risk to health and livelihoods. The practise of defecating in the open (such as in fields, bushes, or by bodies of water) can be devastating for public health, and exposed fecal matter contaminates food, water, and the environment and can spread serious diseases like cholera.
WASH in connection to COVID-19
Hand hygiene is essential in reducing the spread of covid. Yet, three billion people worldwide, including hundreds of millions of school-going children, do not have access to handwashing facilities with soap. People living in rural areas, urban slums, disaster-prone areas and low-income countries are the most vulnerable and the most affected. According to the World Bank, “safely managed water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services are an essential part of preventing and protecting human health during infectious disease outbreaks.”
Good WASH and waste management practices that are consistently applied serve as barriers to human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus in homes, communities, health care facilities, schools, and other public spaces. Safely managed WASH services are also critical during the recovery phase of a disease outbreak to mitigate secondary impacts on community livelihoods and wellbeing.
Upcoming Webinar: Enabling Access to Clean Water and Sanitation
At this webinar, we will discuss the current WASH situation on the ground, solutions, and opportunities. We will also discuss the business of WASH and how companies can participate, what is required, who makes up the WASH supply chain and opportunities inherent in SDG 6. It will take place on February 17, 2022, from 11 am – 12:30 pm EST. Register for the webinar via the following links:
- EnvironFocus Learning Center: https://www.environfocus.com/environfocusknowledge/event/clean-water-and-sanitation/
- Ontario Environment Industry Association website : https://www.oneia.ca/event-4634141
- Eventbrite : https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/enabling-access-to-clean-water-and-sanitation-tickets-258262549237
- Wash. Retrieved on February 3, 2022 from https://www.unicef.org/wash
- Governance, Advocacy and Leadership in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (GoAL WaSH). Retrieved on February 3, 2022 from https://www.watergovernance.org/programmes/goal-wash/#:~:text=and%20capacity%20development.-,Goal,sector%20leadership%20and%20capacity%20development.
- WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and COID-19. Retrieved on February 3, 2022 from https://www.watergovernance.org/programmes/goal-https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water/brief/wash-water-sanitation-hygiene-and-covid-19
- WASH. Retrieved on February 3, 2022 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WASH
One thought on “WASH – A Public Health Emergency”
This article was very informative! Looking forward to the webinar!