What is WASH?
World Water Day is all about focusing our attention on the importance of water. This year, Sanitation First would like to explore water’s significant role as a vital aspect of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). Development professionals consider these three elements together as maximum health benefits are achieved when improvements in water supply, adequate sanitation, and hygiene education are delivered as part of a cohesive programme.
The Links Between Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene
At Sanitation First, we understand the immense positive impact that improved sanitation can have on a community. We are also very aware of how sanitation facilities can impact upon the local water supplies. Indeed, if there are no toilets to safely separate human waste from human contact, faecal matter is highly likely to enter into people’s food and water resources. Globally, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces; this human waste will infiltrate the ecosystem and contaminate the water, which would instantly put an end to the benefits of any well-intended water projects. Furthermore, without a source of clean water nearby, it’s difficult for communities to practise good hygiene, such as handwashing. Thus, the benefits of having access to improved drinking water can only be fully realised when improved sanitation and good hygiene practices exist alongside.
Studies have shown that a multi-faceted approach produces significantly higher results.
As the above graph indicates, an improved water supply can reduce diarrhoea morbidity by between 6% and 25%, whilst improved sanitation can reduce diarrhoea morbidity by 32%. Importantly, if you also add hygiene intervention, this can lead to a further reduction of diarrhoea morbidity by up by an average of 65%. Thus, if we concentrate on improving these three elements together, the impact on global health would be profound.
Water For Handwashing Saves Lives
The simple act of handwashing is one of the most effective hygiene practices that people can adopt. It creates a barrier between humans and life-threatening diseases; reduces the chances of contracting diarrhoeal disease by over 40% and respiratory infections by 30%. It’s an extremely cost-effective way to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia. The widespread contamination of water is one of the largest issues in developing countries, as human waste is where the most harmful pathogens are found. Human faeces are the main source of diarrheal pathogens, shigellosis, typhoid, cholera, all other common endemic gastro-enteric infections, and some respiratory infections; just one gram of human faeces can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria. Handwashing could play a significant role in reducing the burden of diarrheal disease worldwide; a burden that falls most heavily on children, killing more people than TB and Malaria combined.
On World Water Day, the life-saving qualities of water should be celebrated, and all of its vital uses should be acknowledged. When we see a thirsty person taking a gulp of fresh, revitalising water, we know that the water is giving life. But water for handwashing is just as critical, and the simple act of washing our hands is a powerful, life-saving action that has the potential to immensely enhance the outcomes of every water and sanitation project in the developing world.
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UN Water, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene. [online] Available from: http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-sanitation-and-hygiene/
WHO, 2004, Securing Sanitation [pdf] Available from: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/securingsanitation.pdf
WHO, 2018, Drinking water. [online] Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs391/en/