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Water Scarcity & Global Sanitation

Water Scarcity & the Sanitation Crisis

Untreated sewage and fecal sludge are major causes of environmental and water pollution. In the developing world, over 90% of fecal sludge from latrines is untreated and disposed of improperly, contaminating living environments, groundwater, streams, rivers and oceans.

Billions of people worldwide lack clean water to drink and basic sanitation. Over 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a proper or clean toilet — and over 1 billion people practice open defecation.

From densely populated slums to remote rural villages, the lack of sanitation results in human indignity, the spread of infectious disease, childhood stunting, premature death, losses to productivity from chronic illness, and violence against women and children.

Untreated human waste is an invisible killer and serious environmental hazard.

1.8 million people die annually from diarrheal disease alone — and half of these deaths are children under age five. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable to sanitation related diseases due to their fragile immune systems.

Although progress has been made to improve access to clean water, innovation in affordable toilet designs and waste treatment systems has lagged far behind water provision efforts. Experts now realize that water provision alone brings incremental risk reduction to infectious water-borne disease without better sanitation and hygiene.

Water is essential for life, but only 1% of our planet’s water supply is fresh. And, less than one percent of this water is safe to drink. Without a waste treatment revolution, our world’s finite supply of fresh water is threatened. Water-based toilet solutions are no longer possible to meet the needs of our global population.

By 2050, the global population will exceed 9.6 billion people. It’s undeniable that climate change and population growth will put even greater pressure on our water and food supplies.

The United Nations estimates that one-third of the world’s population (2.8 billion people) already struggle with some level of water scarcity. Globally, 4 billion people experience seasonal water shortages, limited supplies of fresh water, or the lack of clean drinking water.

Sanitation is often called the ugly twin of water provision because improving water access is less expensive and less challenging than building sanitation systems. Improving sanitation for the poor will require long-term investment, donor subsidy, extensive training and behavioral change, and innovations in waste treatment and re-use. There are still no affordable off-the-shelf toilet systems that are easy to manage in most developing world contexts.

Despite global momentum to increase water coverage, these efforts cannot reduce the perpetual cycle of disease without better treatment and management of fecal sludge and toilet material, because untreated sewage is a major source of water pollution.