World Water Day

Helen Anderson from WaterAid highlights the importance of World Water Day and how clean running water, safe toilets and sinks with soap can save lives in this special Guest Blog post.

Water means different things to each of us but one thing is certain – it is vital for all our lives. That’s why the UN designates 22 March every year as World Water Day: a day to celebrate life-giving water.

Today 748 million people around the world still have no clean water to drink. That’s roughly one in ten of the world’s population who have no choice but to get water from wherever they can, whether it’s a dirty pond or an expensive water vendor.

Without access to safe water for drinking, cooking and cleaning, people are more likely to suffer from water-related diseases. These can be fatal, killing over 1,400 children a day.

The time and energy required to fetch water, together with the negative health impacts of using dirty water, also has a huge impact on people’s ability to work or get an education.

In the countries where we work, poor communities often cannot access sufficient quantities of safe water locally, due to poor infrastructure and bad management of services. This can be down to a lack of skills, investment or political will to prioritise the right to water.

The effects of a lack of safe water and sanitation have a defining impact from the start of life. Half a million babies die each year in their first month of life because they have been born into unhygienic conditions.

In our recent briefing paper ‘Healthy Start’ we discuss the devastating impact of a lack of safe water and sanitation on newborns in developing countries. The paper highlights the risks presented by healthcare facilities that do not offer a hygienic birth environment, and sets out what is needed to support health agencies, ministries and donor governments to ensure that every healthcare facility has clean running water, safe toilets and sinks with soap available to staff and patients.

This paper accompanies a new World Health Organization and UNICEF report,
Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities: status in low and middle income countries and way forward.

The first multi-country assessment of its kind, it shows that in the 54 developing countries studied, 38% of healthcare facilities do not have any water and 19% do not have any toilet facilities. Of the healthcare facilities that have some water access, only half have reliable or safe supplies.
Over a third (35%) of hospitals and clinics did not have anywhere for staff or patients to wash their hands with soap.

The figures are all the more shocking as even if hospitals and clinics are defined as having access to water, the water supply may be up to half a kilometre away from the facility, rather than piped into the premises. Additionally there is limited data as to whether toilets in healthcare facilities are in working order and can be used by both staff and patients.

WaterAid’s “Healthy Start” briefing launches a new four-year child health campaign by WaterAid. For one in five babies who die in their first month in the developing world, just being washed in clean water, and cared for in a clean and safe environment by people who had washed their hands with soap, could have prevented their untimely deaths.