Every day we wash our hands, drink water, use the toilet. But when this is not done right, or not done at all, it can lead to the deaths of millions of people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1.4 million people died in 2019 because of inadequate drinking water, sanitation and personal hygiene. This number is surprisingly high considering the technology available to clean water and provide safe sanitation.
Nearly 273,000 children under the age of five died from diarrhea caused by lack of access to clean water and unsanitation. Another 112,000 children died from acute respiratory infections, which also could have been prevented with access to clean water and personal hygiene. This is not only a tragedy for families, but also an economic loss for countries that lose labor and investments in health care.
WHO experts also noted that 69 percent of diarrhea cases, 14 percent of respiratory infections, 10 percent of malnutrition and 100 percent of helminth infections could have been prevented with access to clean water, hand washing and cleaning the surrounding area of feces. This is a problem that can easily be solved with the right investments in infrastructure and public education.
However, low-income countries bear the brunt of these diseases and conditions. In these countries, only 37.9 percent of people have access to clean water and 29.7 percent use a toilet connected to a sewer system. Only 26.4 percent of the world’s population can effectively wash their hands with soap and water after potential contact with fecal matter. This means that millions of people are still forced to live in conditions that threaten their health and lives.
The situation with hygiene and access to clean water is a global problem that requires urgent action. As WHO Chief Executive Officer Tedros Adhanom Gebreesus noted, “This data underscores the need to invest in infrastructure, education and raising public awareness about the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene in general. If we don’t take action, this problem will continue to claim the lives of millions of people every year.