If we are to collectively address the sanitation needs of the world’s poorest we have some major hurdles to clear.

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There are 7 billion people on the planet today and by 2050, we will have welcomed another 2 billion. Currently an estimated 2.5 billion do not have access to basic sanitation, and 1.1 billion of those people still practice open defecation (15 per cent of the world’s total population).

This is not only ‘an affront to human dignity’, but also a serious public health issue as faecal–oral transmitted diseases such as diarrhoea, cause at least 1.5 million deaths per year in children under 5. Water is essential for human life, but it is not enough.

In line with the old adage that prevention is better than cure, providing clinical health services without improving infrastructure and hygiene awareness is counterproductive, as too many resources are invested and ultimately wasted. We have seen historically that the biggest health advances at the start of the 20th century came as people earned higher incomes and enjoyed greater access to sewage systems, safe water supplies and medical care. Developing countries of today can expect similar advances in health, dignity and economic growth but only if sanitation is viewed as an equal priority.

IFRC Water and sanitation policy

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