Although they are commonly taken for granted in the developed world, clean water and sanitation facilities are still out of reach for a large proportion of the world’s population.
About 660 million people (9% of the global population) live without access to clean water, and 2.4 billion people live without access to improved sanitation facilities (about 32% of the global population).
Currently, in the developing world, women and girls (who are usually their family’s water collectors) often walk long distances to collect contaminated water.
Since their families oftentimes lack knowledge of water purification and storage, the drinking of contaminated water can lead to waterborne illnesses such as dysentery and cholera.
Likewise, a lack of access to sanitation facilities such as latrines and toilets can lead people to practice open defecation.
This can result in waterborne diseases when being done near water sources; insect-borne diseases, as insects are attracted to lumps of human waste; and malnutrition in children, as the diseases caused by open defecation oftentimes reduce children’s appetite.
Below, we will discuss recent developments in the effort to provide clean water and sanitation, the cost-effectiveness of various measures, and what nonprofits should do.
Fortunately, the world has made much progress in ensuring that a larger portion of the world has access to clean water.
From 1990 to 2015, we have increased the proportion of the global population who have access to clean water from 76% to 91%. Most of those who currently do not have access to clean water are concentrated in nations in the African continent.
Unfortunately, progress in increasing access to sanitation has been slower. From 1990 to 2015, access to improved sanitation increased from 54% to only 68%. Most of those without access to improved sanitation are concentrated in South Asia and the African continent.
The reason behind the slower development in sanitation access is that sanitation facilities have expensive fixed costs and require skilled workers to maintain.
Likewise, the optimal sanitation solutions varying by location (ex. It is not optimal to dig a latrine in locations where doing so can lead to groundwater contamination) further slows development.
Cost-Benefit Analysis of Improvement Methods
Since the nations that tend to lack access to clean water and sanitation are oftentimes impoverished nations, we believe that it is integral for nonprofits trying to combat these issues to look at the cost-effectiveness of various methods.
One common method in improving access to clean water is disinfection (ex. by chlorination) of water at the point of use, which has an annual cost of between $0.02-$0.09 per capita.
On the other hand, increasing access to in-house piped water and sewer connection is estimated to have an annual cost of between $12.89-$15.47 per capita.
This is primarily more expensive because it is costly to install and maintain the necessary infrastructure for these improvement methods. Yet, despite this, these methods are far more effective in improving a community’s health than water disinfection is.
For non-profits that are operating on a budget, we recommend that they distribute resources to disinfect water at the point of use. However, nonprofits that are not operating on a tight budget should consider increasing access to in-house piped water and sewer connections.
Likewise, we recommend that nonprofits attempting the latter methods to consider regional climate and geography before implementing solutions in order to ensure that their “solutions” do not worsen the problem.