Sanitation is the process of providing services and facilities which safely dispose of human waste and maintain public hygiene. This includes using clean and safe toilets, keeping water sources clean and disposing of garbage safely. Sanitation is a global issue which affects the health and well-being of the population, food production and the environment. In poorer areas of the world like parts of Africa and India, the levels of sanitation are inadequate and there is an ongoing effort among governments and charities worldwide to improve public hygiene in these areas.
Sanitation is directly linked to the health of human beings and can prevent the dangerous spread of diseases. Poor sanitation is a major cause of disease with over half of the world's hospital beds filled with people suffering from sanitation-related diseases, according to the Hesperian Foundation. Illnesses like diarrhea, worms, cholera and malaria caused by poor sanitation needlessly take the lives of millions of people every day, with diarrhea alone responsible for the deaths of 5,000 children a day, says Unicef. Providing sanitary conditions such as proper toilet facilities, clean running water and a means of safe garbage disposal can therefore prevent the incidence of such widespread disease and death.
Sanitation plays an important part in ensuring that children have fair access to an education which will help them succeed in life as adults. According to the United Nations, the diseases which sanitation can cause can have a knock-on effect on a child's education. Repeated intestinal infections can starve a child of important nutrients, delay their development and result in poor school attendance and performance. The effects of poor sanitation in developing countries are felt most by girls, says Unicef. Girls are often either occupied with the household chores of walking miles to fetch clean water or are discouraged by the lack of clean and separate washing and toilet facilities in schools, causing them to drop out.
Sanitation can help to promote the economic development of a country by providing the means for food production and a healthy workforce while reducing the drain on public health services. According to Unicef, if everyone in the world had access to basic water and sanitation facilities, the drop in diarrheal disease would save the health sector $11.6 billion and the economy would gain more than $5.6 billion productive days per year. According to the United Nations, improving sanitation therefore could yield $9 worth of benefits for every $1 spent in improvements.
Sanitation plays an important part in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. According to the United Nations, reusing human waste through ecological sanitation can produce fertilizers which can be used in agriculture. For example, more than 90 percent of human excreta is used in Chinese farming. In the absence of good sanitation such as proper toilet facilities and sewerage techniques, waste is disposed of in the streets, muddying the landscape and creating a foul smell and terrible living conditions for inhabitants. This waste can then find its way into untreated rivers, polluting the water and killing plants and animals and posing a health risk to those depending on this water for bathing and cleaning purposes, according to the United Nations.