Lack of WASH: The Beginning Of An International Environmental Issue?

What is the Problem?

The issues of contaminated water and a lack of basic, safe sanitation are not just impacting human life but are also undermining the efforts to end poverty and other drastic issues in the world. As of 2017, there are still 2 billion people in the world who don’t have access to even basic sanitation facilities like a toilet or latrines because of which 673 million people are still practicing open defecation. Additionally, more than 1.2 billion people are estimated to drink water that isn’t safe and is highly contaminated (WHO,2019). Unclean water and improper sanitation have an impact on all ages, especially children. Child mortality is a leading result of improper WASH Services.

Approximately 1.5 million child deaths a year are caused due to diarrhea from lack of safe water and sanitation (UNICEF)

Water and Sanitation defined from different viewpoints, put forward by

· As a Women’s crisis- Women are impacted the most by a water and sanitation crisis. They’re often responsible for water collection and this takes away most of their time from work and education, therefore a lack of safe and proper water and sanitation ties women and girls in a cycle of poverty. Data shows that 200 million women and children spend 200 million hours every day collecting water and 266 million hours every day to find a place for defecating.

· As a Health crisis- Every year, close to 1 million people die due to water, sanitation, and hygiene-related health issues. Every 2 minutes a child dies due to a water-related disease (in most cases diarrhea). Data shows that the 3rd leading cause of child death is diarrhea.

· As a Children’s education crisis- Children, especially girls are responsible for collecting water for the house and their families. This results in a loss of time from school. Data also projects how 1 in 3 schools don’t have proper access to water and sanitation facilities for the students.

· As an Economic crisis- $260 billion is lost every year across the world as a result of water and sanitation. Research shows how there providing universal access to WASH services can contribute $18.5 billion worth of economic benefit every year from avoiding health issues and deaths from improper services.

Benefits of Improving Water & Sanitation to all

· Reduced health risks for people of all ages, more importantly, children

· Increases safety and overall health, especially in case of young girls and women

· Improved water and sanitation also lead to increased educational attainment

· Proper treatment of water can help with reduced waste and proper treatment of resources

As highlighted from a 2012 study by WHO, for every USD $1 invested in water and sanitation, there was a return of decrease in health costs, more productivity, and fewer deaths by USD $4.30.

In this blog, however, I wish to look at WASH issues from a point of view of how it impacts children worldwide. The International Organization I will be looking at is UNICEF.

As put forward by UNICEF, “Growing up in a clean and safe environment is every child’s right. Access to clean water, basic toilets, and good hygiene practices not only keeps children thriving but also gives them a healthier start in life”. UNICEF also puts forward various issues that are related to WASH:

· 2.2 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water

· Over half of the global population i.e., 4.2 billion people lack safe sanitation services

· 80% of wastewater is reused in the ecosystem without being treated for contamination

· Poor sanitation decreases human well-being, socio-economic development, increases the risk of assault due to inadequate facilities

In order to solve these issues related to water and sanitation, one of the most important milestones was the 2010 United Nations General Assembly which recognized access to water and sanitation as a basic human right. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) aims to look at water and sanitation as a whole. This goal “ensures availability & sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

How are inadequate WASH facilities an environmental issue?

As put forward by EHA Connect, WASH services and the environment are interdependent. Implementation of WASH activities and the usage and maintenance of them can cause negative impacts on the environment, in terms of biodiversity loss, land and soil degradation, and even threaten the livelihoods of people. The environmental consequences of WASH can be found anywhere and everywhere. There is poor fecal management due to open defecation, pollution of water bodies, improper treatment of waste, which are all consequences of inadequate WASH services that deter the environment.

Who are the Actors involved?

In order to understand how the UNICEF works to fulfill SDG 6 and other responsibilities towards providing WASH services, it’s important to understand what actors are involved in this process. For this reason, let’s take a look at the actor analysis. As put forward by O’Neill, Kate(2017) in Global Environmental Politics, there are various actors involved, ranging from Governmental organizations to NGOs, to Nation-states, etc.

· The main objective is the environmental issue which is improper access to sanitation & hygiene facilities across the globe (with a focus on children).

· The actors that I am discussing are NGOs, Nation-state, the Inter-governmental organizations & UNICEF agreement with WSSCC, as shown in the above figure.


· As put forward by SDG Partnerships Platform, a WASH partnership was jointly agreed upon between the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and UNICEF. The goal of this partnership was to contribute towards the achievement of MDGs and the SDG 6, through a variety of combinations of activities that influenced policy at a national and global level. This WASH partnership helps in coalition-building among multi-stakeholders at a national and grassroots level as well.

· In order to attain WASH conditions, it is important that all the actors discussed here, interact and work with one another.

· Nation-state actors, like local, municipalities, state and national governments work towards the betterment of population via WASH guidelines, in order to provide safe and clean water and sanitation services.

· The NGOs and Governmental & multilateral organizations work together in order to achieve the common goals of safe and clean sanitation. For example, the World Bank: Water and Sanitation program interacts with local bodies in order to achieve clean water and sanitation in over 25 countries.

· Similarly, NGOs like Water For People, WaterAid, etc work with developing country governments to improve water and sanitation access at local and national levels. Hence the interaction between Nation-state and NGOs. The Nation States have a relationship with both the NGOs and the Inter-Governmental organizations as these organizations work in direct contact with nation-states to bring change and impact in countries and among the population.

· For example, WaterAid is an international not-for-profit organization that is working continuously to make clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene available for everyone, everywhere. They do this by interacting with UNICEF, various nation-state actors, and other governmental organizations to fulfill SDG 6.

· UNICEF also partners with Governments of various countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, etc., and works to arrange for capacity-building and technology transfer in order to implement SDG for promoting safe WASH services.

· Various Inter-Governmental organizations like Inter-American Development Bank, Swedish International Water Institute, World Water Council, etc. also collaborate with UNICEF to work towards the fulfillment of certain WASH requirements.

Therefore from this actor analysis, we have learned that all the actors mentioned here, work in collaboration with each other in order to address the key issues of accessibility to WASH services in various rural and urban areas. The aim is to help countries and local bodies, move towards a WASH system that is safe, sustainable, and accessible to all at all times.

Responsibilities of International Institutions and the Challenges

There are 568 million people who are openly defecating, due to inadequate access to safe sanitation services. Additionally, 884 million people don’t have safe water to drink.

As put forward by WHO, UNICEF Report, 2015, across the world, lack of proper sanitation facilities is one of the biggest risk factors leading to deaths and diseases. According to the WHO, basic sanitation is lowest-cost technology ensuring hygienic excreta and sullage disposal and a clean and healthful living environment both at home and in the neighborhood of users’.

As stated by Young, 2011, it is difficult to measure an institution’s effectiveness. However, there are various roles and responsibilities of International Institutions, which can be seen from the Infographic above. I believe that apart from the current responsibilities, organizations like UNICEF have the following roles too:

· Improving Awareness- There is a huge need to educate and inform the public about the importance of having clean water and sanitation facilities. It is imperative that they’re made aware of the benefits of improving access to safe, clean water and sanitation.

· Financing Avenues- It is nothing new that building better and safe infrastructure for providing water and sanitation to all, takes up a lot of time, money, and resources. Hence, I believe that it is also the responsibility of WASH agencies and organizations like UNICEF to find new avenues of financing, be it public or private, in order to build stronger infrastructural facilities for all.

· Planning & Monitoring- In order to achieve successful water and sanitation available for all, it is also necessary to track the inequalities, targets, the working progress and plan continuously to stay on track. This again would be the responsibility of the WASH agencies and the governments in concern.

· Good Governance- It is of utmost importance that when organizations like UNICEF partner with governments of different countries, that there is good governance that is maintained. For example- ensuring adequate infrastructure, making sure there’s enough capacity in place, and that the institutions are fulfilling their duties.

We can also identify various causes for the inadequate or poor WASH services to children and people of other age groups, in general:

1. Gender Inequality- Often in villages and rural areas, there is gender insensitivity. Sanitation primarily isn’t considered a priority by men and this acts as a major hindrance to the women and girls who wish to avail themselves of WASH services. I believe that in such situations it is imperative that there is more awareness created by organizations like UNICEF that WASH services aren’t a luxury but basic needs for human survival.

2. Policy Instruments- A lot of times, the issues are of finance in poor rural areas. Even incentives like a subsidy won’t suffice as the people are extremely poor and cannot allocate money for constructing personal WASH facilities. Hence, policy instruments like a subsidy become redundant. Even though the cost of construction of these WASH facilities is high, we need to understand that the negative impacts of poor access to these services are also high.

3. Fairness & Legitimacy- Often the schemes that are launched, end up neglecting the poor in rural and urban areas, as we saw from the reasons stated above. There is also the existence of high corruption in various parts of the world, this also acts as a negative factor in the promotion and implementation of WASH facilities.

4. Problem Structure- It is very important to realize that providing access to water and sanitation is in fact a long-term policy problem. In many cases, there is also a time lag between making WASH policies and implementing them for building and usage by people in rural and urban areas.

What is the current situation and is there Room for Change?

I believe that in order to create more awareness and highlight the gravity of inadequate access to safe WASH services, media plays a huge role. Tools especially a Podcast, can be leveraged as a soft power tool to educate people about the crisis going on across the globe. The use of such media tools helps provide a space for discussions and brings people together to work towards change. Following are a few excerpts from various interviews of people working in International organizations, giving important answers to the following questions:

Q1- Is there enough progress being done at basic levels to provide WASH Services?


Q2. How is the present WASH situation harmful to people in the particular region/country?


Q3. How has WASH benefitted the present society?


From these audios, we can see how the main issue lies with infrastructure and the lack of resources to build the required infrastructure for WASH to flourish. This lack of services mainly affects kids, mothers, and children in a vulnerable state. It is simple that, increasing the availability of safe water, hygiene, and sanitation services can save millions of lives across the globe.


To sum up, we can say that even though efforts are being made, services are being implemented, there are still millions that lack access to basic WASH facilities. We have identified that clean and safe water, sanitation and hygiene are basic human rights that everyone needs access to. We also saw that even though, inadequate facilities affect everyone across the globe, it deeply has a negative effect on children. Therefore, it becomes imperative that organizations like UNICEF, along with other actors as defined previously, work in collaboration to provide adequate and safe services to all. As put forward by UNICEF, 2018, “Sustainable WASH services within households and communities, healthcare facilities and schools are fundamental basics underpinning almost every aspect of early childhood development. It is therefore essential that WASH services are considered a key component of early childhood programs in order to support the development of a happy, healthy child and mother”.



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