Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Rotary Focus Area 03 : Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

“Water is our most precious resource, a ‘blue gold’ to which more than 2 billion people do not have direct access. It is not only essential for survival, but also plays a sanitary, social and cultural role at the heart of human societies,” 

– Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay.[1]

Amongst the seven focus areas that have been brought to light by the Rotary International, “Water Sanitation and Hygiene”, has become the hottest topic of the world. The lack of both water and sanitation has been identified as one of the root causes for many existing issues plaguing the world. As the above saying stresses, warning bells start ringing among all the countries when unequal access to clean water leads to various political issues like the war.

Therefore, it is high time we all pledge to ensure that all have access to clean water and sanitation no matter whether we come from a developed, less-developed, or developing nation. Let us first explore some dreadful statistics of lack of access to water and sanitation, which is declared as one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Water inequality in numbers

Water is quite everything for us humans. It is obvious that water is essential for all living beings; however, no other living being survives on water and makes the best use of it as humans do. Water is that much inseparable from humans’ life as research estimates that each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day only for indoor home uses.[2] Out of this, humans use huge amounts of water just to flush the toilet. (Click here to know how much water you use a day)

We know most of you by now are shocked and surprised to see your per capita water use, which has exceeded the number of estimated 80 – 100 range. We bet that the survey results of 99 per cent of you from Asia is something like 200 or more gallons as statistical evidence of some research listing the countries that consume a large number of waters has announced China in its top with a record of 362 trillion gallons for 1.5 billion people, and the USA, Brazil, Russia following the list. This list of top 10 water using countries as published by National Water Footprint Accounts, UNESCO-IHE 2011 states that the top three users of water come from the Asian, North and South American continents. Irony is that the top nations from the West and the East consume a lot in trillions in a context where the American continent shares the largest portion of the world’s water resources with 45 percent while Asia, with 60 percent of the world’s population have access to the second lowest share of water resources with 28 percent. This clearly depicts the gap between the have and have-nots increasing. Making things worse, Africa’s freshwater resources are estimated to be nearly 9% of the world’s total.[3] All in all, two billion people, that is 1 in 4 people around the world, lack drinking water leading to serious consequences related to sanitary infrastructure.[4] Click here for the factsheet on drinking water issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Lack of sanitary facilities

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene report – Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000 – 2020 states that almost half of the global population, i.e., 3.6 billion people lack safe sanitation. As the report examines, access to drinking water cannot be fully realized without access to improved sanitation. In 2020, 1 in 4 people lacked safely managed drinking water in their homes and nearly half of the world’s population lacked safely managed sanitation.

The fact that 1 in 4 people lack access to drinking water and sanitation when the world fights with a deadly virus is not something to be taken lightly. Highlighting the severity of the issue on lack of sanitation, the above report stresses that “At the onset of the pandemic, 3 in 10 people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water within their homes.”, which distances us more from reaching the WASH strategy to assure that all have equal access to water and sanitation. Click here to read the factsheet on sanitation by the (WHO).

What is this WASH?

WASH is an acronym representing water, sanitation and hygiene established with the intention of promoting good hygiene habits for people, and also safe menstrual hygiene for women and the girl child. The WHO plays a major role in WASH as an objective and respected source of international guidelines, standards and normative information; authoritative technical guidance on water quality management, sanitation and wastewater; and WASH policies and regulations.[5] However, children in Sub Saharan and some parts of Asia die due to adequate drinking water, lack of sanitary facilities and lack of awareness of good health habits. The Rotary’s Areas of Focus also pinpoints 1400 children die each year from diseases caused by contaminating various diseases and viruses due to lack of sanitation and safe water. In addition to children, 827 000 people in low- and middle-income countries die as a result of inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene each year, representing 60 percent of total diarrhoeal deaths as stated by the WHO Factsheet of sanitation. Facts by the WHO states that the cause for 432 000 out of 827 000 deaths is poor sanitation.

By looking at the above statistics, realizing the dream of universal access to water and sanitation, and making it a reality seems to us a mere utopian thing. However, as every cloud has a silver lining, the WHO in its Factsheet states that such untimely deaths due to diarrhoea that is not justifiable in the name of humanity can be largely preventable. Further, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) – Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000 – 2020 states that if the universal access to safe drinking water is attained by 2030, the current rate of progress in the least developed countries would need to increase ten-fold. That is to say, if we, irrespective of the part of the world we come from, join hands to improve the quality of water and sanitary facilities, half of the problems related to water and sanitation plaguing this world would come to an end. So, how can we plan the way forward to creating a universal access to water and sanitation?

Think big, start small, act now!

An all-inclusive access to water and sanitation is realistically doable. However, you might think that is it easier said than done. So, let us look into how we could exert our efforts and contribute towards a water secure world for all, which will undoubtedly solve all the existing problems related to sanitation.

From the very words of the Rotary’s Areas of Focus, we all could start working by ourselves without just waiting for others to make change. We have therefore, listed out (with reference to the suggestions presented by the Rotary community) some of the actions that are seemingly worthy of commencing in our journey towards realizing the water secure and safe sanitation for all.

What can we do?

Activities to improve water quality and access to water
  • Build wells to extract ground water from underground aquifers.
  • Implement rainwater harvesting systems to collect and store rainwater for drinking or recharging underground aquifers.
  • Provide home water treatment capability, through the use of filters, solar disinfection, or flocculants, to make drinking water safe.
  • Promote low-cost solutions, such as chlorine tablets or plastic bottles that can be exposed to sunlight, to improve water quality.
Activities to improve sanitation facilities and promote WASH.
  • Improve sanitation facilities by providing toilets and latrines that flush into a sewer or safe enclosure.
  • Providing toilets to ending open defecation.
  • Conduct seminars on handwashing in primary and secondary schools.
  • Conduct seminars to create awareness on menstrual hygiene among school girls.
  • Conduct awareness programmes on neglected tropical diseases cholera, polio and antimicrobial resistance.

What can Governments do?

  • Establish water footprint (the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use) benchmarks for producers and sectors, based on best available technologies and practices to drive improved resource efficiency.
  • Establish equitable allocation/fair sharing of water footprints within river basins and amongst all people.
  • Grant funds to promote research work to accumulate more data and statistics to study the real problems.
  • Create legislation or voluntary agreements per sector to promote product transparency and disclosure on water footprint.
  • Engage with their citizens raising their awareness of the water footprint of their consumption and ways to reduce it.
  • Work with trade partners to ensure sustainable production of goods that are imported and exported.[6]

To sum up, all these facts and figures indicate the increasing demand for clean water and sanitation as worldwide, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water and two out of five people worldwide do not wash. The spread of the covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for water and sanitation by leaps and bounds as UN Sustainable Development Goals indicate 3 billion people worldwide lack basic handwashing facilities at home, which undoubtedly triggers the vehement measures that we as people should take without delay to ensure all-inclusive access to clean water and adequate sanitation facilities for a healthy future.


  1. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000375724
  2. https://www.waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/national-water-footprint/what-can-governments-do/
  3. https://www.who.int/health-topics/water-sanitation-and-hygiene-wash
  4. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-qa-how-much-water-do-i-use-home-each-day?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
  5. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000375751
  6. https://www.unwater.org/publications/who-unicef-joint-monitoring-program-for-water-supply-sanitation-and-hygiene-jmp-progress-on-household-drinking-water-sanitation-and-hygiene-2000-2020/

Penned by Rtr. Amavasya Sirisena in collaboration with the District Editorial Team

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