Reuters Reports On PLoS Medicine Series On Water, Sanitation

“Nearly 20 percent of the world’s population still defecates in the open, and action to improve hygiene, sanitation and water supply could prevent more than 2 million child deaths a year, health experts said” on Monday, following the release of a series of papers on water and sanitation published in the journal PLoS Medicine, Reuters reports (Kelland, 11/15).

The series highlights the following statistics: “2.6 billion people do not have access to even a basic toilet. Unsafe sanitation and drinking water, as well as poor hygiene, account for at least 7% of the total global disease burden, and nearly 20% of all child deaths in the world,” according to a PLoS press release (11/15).

Despite the potential for low-cost solutions for reducing deaths caused by unsafe water and sanitation, the authors in the series argue “progress in improving safe water supplies and sanitation has been ‘painfully slow’ in many developing countries” and call upon “international donors, United Nations agencies, developing country governments and health workers to act now to reduce this ‘devastating disease burden,'” Reuters continues. The news service notes how poor sanitation and water conditions can fuel the spread of diseases, it cites the cholera outbreak in Haiti as an example.

The article looks at the global disparities in access to clean water and sanitation, noting the PLoS Medicine series reported that “of the 2.6 billion people who have no access to decent sanitation, two-thirds live in Asia and sub-Sahara Africa. … It also found huge regional disparities in sanitation coverage. While 99 percent of people in industrialized countries have access to good sanitation, in developing countries only 53 percent have it. Within developing countries, urban sanitation coverage is 71 percent while in rural areas it is 39 percent between developing and industrialized countries,” Reuters writes.

“Globally, around 2.4 million deaths could be prevented annually if everyone practiced appropriate hygiene and had good, reliable sanitation and drinking water,” said Sandy Cairncross of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led one of the studies, according to Reuters. “These deaths are mostly of children in developing countries from diarrhoea and subsequent malnutrition, and from other diseases attributable to malnutrition,” she added.

The article details that while the world appears on-track to reach as U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to increase access to safe drinking water, global efforts to improve access to basic sanitation remain a greater challenge (11/15).

In a piece examining the future of toilets in developed and developing countries ahead of World Toilet Day on Friday, the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, “Outside the developed world, a lack of toilets is a leading cause of illness, which affects education and productivity. UNICEF estimates that proper sanitation would reduce deaths from diarrhea by 32 percent.” The article notes activities planned around the world to mark World Toilet Day and includes comments by Jack Sim, a Singapore businessman who in 2001 founded the World Toilet Organization (Bauers, 11/15).

Experts Call For More Attention To Be Paid To Private Wells In Developing Countries

IRIN examines the findings of a report (.pdf) released Friday by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) that highlights the dependency populations living in developing countries have on groundwater wells (11/15). “The report contains two case studies – of the cities of Bangalore, India, and Lusaka, Zambia – in order to substantiate the limited amount of statistics and literature in the field,” according to a IIED summary of the report (November 2010).

“The study estimates that almost a third of urban households in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia rely on groundwater from local wells, and the share is considerably higher among poorer households,” according to an IIED press release. The study “warns that policymakers, donors and others have neglected poor people’s dependence on wells, and it urges action to ensure that people can use groundwater in a safe and sustainable way,” the release states (11/12).

“The policy trend is to promote the use of piped water, but as our research shows, large proportions of urban populations are not served and must supply themselves with groundwater from wells,” Jenny Gronwall, co-author on the report, said, IRIN writes.”Unfortunately most official statistics, including those that measure progress towards the U.N. Millennium Development Goal on water, fail to acknowledge the value of different kinds of well,” she added. The article examines why statistics on the use of private wells can be difficult to obtain and notes the report authors’ appeal for more attention to be paid to such wells.

“Development efforts are focussed on trying to get rid of these private wells, even, in some cases, forbidding their use – one reason, said the IIED, that statistics are so hard to come by … The IIED report argues for a less rigid approach,” IRIN writes. 

“It is a misconception that sanitation facilities near wells will automatically cause disease and that such wells deserve to be shut down,” Martin Mulenga, co-author on the report, said. “In reality, transmission routes for harmful microbes are much more complex,” he said. IRIN continues, “[E]ven if the well water is not of safe drinking quality, just having an affordable, convenient and reliable source of lower quality water for cooking, washing and watering plants contributes to better health.”

Mulenga added, “Governments and donor agencies should take steps to enable poor communities to use groundwater in a safe and sustainable way, rather than discouraging their use of this resource” (11/15).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

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