Sanitation and the unlikely link to good health
According to the United Nations Development Plan, even though 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved water sanitation since 1990, dwindling supplies of safe drinking water is a major problem impacting every continent. Poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water, and inadequate personal hygiene are responsible for an estimated 88% of childhood diarrhoea in India. This and more alarming facts and research have made providing universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 a crucial goal to achieve. And this requires an investment into adequate infrastructure, provision of sanitation, and awareness building as well as consistently encouraging hygiene at every level.
So what is this link between sanitation and health, the absence of which can be fatal for human beings as well as severely detrimental to the environment?
Around the world, more than 500,000 children under five lose their lives annually due to severe dehydration caused by diarrhoea (WHO). And even though statistics report a downward trend in deaths due to diarrhoea in India, India still accounts for 20% of this global number. In India 1 in every five children under the age of 5, still dies due to diarrhoea (according to WHO). It is interesting to note that in a decade prior to 2015, India’s efforts to tackle diarrhoea have resulted in a 52% decline in childhood deaths. And yet, the prevalence of diarrhoea is still at an astonishingly high 9.2%.
The WHO states that diseases due to poor drinking-water access, unimproved sanitation, and poor hygiene practices cause 4.0% of all deaths and 5.7% of all disability or ill health in the world. The fact that often doesn’t get enough attention is that diarrhoea is easily preventable by promoting sanitation, managing sewage treatment in a safe way and ensuring all people have uncontaminated, safe drinking water and hygiene across the board.
Urban solid waste disposal is another sanitation-related challenge. Some WHO estimates suggest that urban areas can generate 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year. This figure is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025. It is imperative that systems and infrastructure to adequately collect and dispose this solid waste be developed urgently to avoid the clear and present risk of proliferation of disease-carrying vectors, such as rodents and insects, as well as the risk of contamination of water. These risks can be exacerbated by other urban conditions, such as overcrowding.
Did you know that 1 gram of faecal matter contains numerous pathogens which are associated diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid, leptospirosis, hepatitis and cholera? Exposure to faecal matter, either due to open defecation (still widely prevalent in India) or inadequate treatment of faecal matter, can lead to contamination of groundwater, generate odour and serve as breeding ground for diseases.
Human exposure to pathogenic microbes happens through various routes linked to improper sanitation: waterborne, water-based and water-related, excreta-related and water storage and collection-related.
In all of this, the lack of toilets remains one of the largest challenges in tackling illness and death among children caused due to improper sanitation. According to UNICEF, in 2015, 626 million people in India practised open defecation. Sanitation coverage stands at 59% in India, however also sees a huge disparity in the use of toilets in the rural versus urban areas (34% and 80%, respectively). So it is not surprising that we still have such poor and alarming statistics to report on sanitation-related disease.
This is the established link between malnutrition and poor sanitation. Poor healthcare is associated with poor sanitation. Taking action to improve health requires understanding the factors that influence exposure to faecal pathogens and the various pathways in which they are exposed to human beings.
With a fast-increasing population to cater to, this challenge and the associated health risk is perpetually teetered at the brink of exploding into a full-blown catastrophe. Since the launch of Government of India’s flagship scheme, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), more than 12 million toilets have already been constructed in rural areas*. It is crucial to find solutions that can be quickly implemented, cheaply and safely, as well as solutions that are efficient and can be scaled up to provide wider reach and give access to a larger section of citizens as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is believed that significant investments and resources are being fuelled towards ending open defecation in 2019 through the Swachh Bharat programme. The time is ripe to address this silent killer and fill the glaring gap between sanitation and health.
Today, 1 in 2 Indians still does not have access to proper sanitation facilities. Organica’s bio-toilets and bio-solutions for sanitation address the core problem of sanitation infrastructure and appropriate treatment of faecal matter. Our interventions range from toilets in small spaces to solutions for complete degradation of faecal matter in the shortest possible time. What’s more, these can be applied to a range of infrastructure challenges – whether inaccessible remote areas or small, crowded spaces and can also be adapted to existing facilities and to restore defunct toilets. The microbial blend embedded in these systems aids in the effective degradation of faecal matter curbs the propagation of deadly diseases and eliminates foul odour.