Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in and there is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. At the current time, more than 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. Drought in specific afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition.


663 million people - 1 in 10 - lack access to safe water, including 159 million dependent on surface water. [5]

Globally, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces. [5]

Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Contaminated drinking-water is estimated to cause 502,000 diarrheal deaths each year. [5]



2.4 billion people still do not have access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. [4]

Of these, 946 million still defecate in the open, for example in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water. [4]

Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. [4]




Hand-washing with soap at critical times – including before eating or preparing food and after using the toilet – can reduce diarrhea rates by more than 40 per cent. [1]

Hand-washing with soap has been cited as one of the most cost-effective interventions to prevent diarrhea related deaths and disease. [2]

Rates of hand-washing around the world are low. Observed rates of hand-washing with soap at critical moments – i.e, before handling food and after using the toilet – range from zero per cent to 34 per cent. [3]


  1. Curtis, V., and S. Cairncross. 2003. “Effect of Washing Hands with Soap on Diarrhea Risk in the Community: A Systematic Review.” Lancet Infectious Diseases 3: 275–81.

  2. Cairncross, S. Valdmanis V. 2006. Water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion. Chapter 41. In. Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries. Second Edition. Edt. Jameson et al 2006. The World Bank. Washington DC: National Institutes of Health.

  3. Scott B, Curtis V & Rabie, T. 2003. Protecting children from diarrhea and acute respiratory infections: the role of hand-washing promotion in water and sanitation programmes. WHO Regional Health Forum 7, 42–47

  4. WHO Sanitation fact sheet.

  5. WHO Drinking-Water Fact Sheet.

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