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The Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation

Available in: العربية, Español, 中文, Français
  • Economic and human impacts are huge.
  • Improvements could save 1.5 million children annually.
  • Sanitation targets are formidable, but achievable.

March 20, 2008— Some 2.6 billion people worldwide have one thing in common—they do not have access to sanitation—but the World Bank and the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) are helping change that.

To raise awareness for this crisis, this year’s World Water Day will focus on sanitation.

Worldwide, about 1.7 million deaths a year—90 percent of which are children—are attributed to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene, mainly through infectious diarrhea. Access to sanitation, the practice of good hygiene, and a safe water supply could save 1.5 million children a year.

As the world’s largest investor in sanitation and wastewater, the Bank helps improve sanitation services that reduce illness, generate economic benefits, and reduce the environmental squalor that directly harms people around the globe. For the past 30 years, WSP, a multidonor partnership of the World Bank, has led or supported many of the advances made within the water and sanitation sector.

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Less than half of the Latin American countries are on track to meet the water and sanitation Millennium Development Goal (#7)

In only 14 years more than 1 billion people have gained access to sanitation. But because of population growth, the rate of sanitation provision needs to be doubled to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without access to hygienic sanitation by 2015. Doubling the effort will not be easy, but it is achievable.

Sanitation and wastewater commitments have effectively tripled since 1990 and nearly doubled since 2002. This growth reflects increasing client concern, the effects of the MDGs, and the efforts of World Bank staff to raise the profile of sanitation and wastewater with clients.


Sanitation Saves Money

Improved sanitation increases primary school enrollment, reduces illnesses so children miss fewer school days, increases productivity among adults, provides safety to women, and reduces the pollution of water resources.

The costs of environmental and health degradation due to inadequate water and sanitation services have been estimated at more than 1 percent of GDP in Colombia, 0.6 percent in Tunisia, and 1.4 percent in Bangladesh.

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Sanitation access, good hygiene, and a safe water supply can save 1.5 million children a year.

Poor sanitation is responsible for at least $9 billion in economic losses per year in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam combined, says a new Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) study -- Economic Impacts of Sanitation in Southeast Asia .

Sanitation is a neglected aspect of development in countries where spending is limited. By examining the economic impacts of poor sanitation, and the potential gains from improved sanitation, this study provides evidence to support further investments in sanitation.

The most devastating impact of poor sanitation is an increased risk of infectious disease and premature death, accounting for more than $4.8 billion, or $12 per capita annually, according to the study.

Poor sanitation also contributes significantly to water pollution—adding to the cost of safe freshwater for households, and reducing the production of fish in rivers and lakes.

To find out more about what the World Bank, WSP, and our partners are doing to improve the sanitation situation, visit www.wsp.org and www.worldbank.org/watsan .

To order a free copy of this publication, please send your name and address to wsp@worldbank.org.