Toilets are vital in fight against the impact of climate change, and infectious diseases says WaterAid global report – but one in four people still do not have one.
Living without a toilet endangers the health and livelihoods of the world's most vulnerable people – and the risk of living without proper sanitation increases as climate change bites.
WaterAid's report Living in a fragile world: The impact of climate change on the sanitation crisis highlights the link between poor sanitation and the transmission of fatal but preventable illnesses – such as cholera - and examines how these are now compounded by the effects of climate change.
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impact of climate change. Two-thirds of Bangladesh sits less than five metres above sea level, leaving these areas highly susceptible to river and tidal flooding. Drought, rising sea levels and cyclones also significantly impact access to clean water.
According to the report, Bangladesh has ranked 36th in access to sanitation and climate vulnerability index ranking out of 181 countries. The report shows that in the country 48% of population has access to at least basic sanitation facilities while 52% of the population have access to limited and unimproved sanitation facilities.
Globally, only 45% of the world's population can rely on safely managed sanitation – that is, a toilet serviced to allow human waste to be treated and disposed of safely. A staggering two billion people do not have access to a private toilet, and more than 600 million people have no choice but to practice open defecation. Where decent toilets are lacking, human faeces can contaminate the groundwater or end up in rivers and lakes, polluting what is often the only supply of water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. Children play on ground rife with pathogens, and as a result of faecal contamination, whole communities can contract diarrhoeal diseases.
Further, inadequate sanitation in healthcare centers increases the risk of them becoming the epicenters of epidemics. One in 10 healthcare facilities has no sanitation, and globally 1.8 billion people have no basic water services at their local facilities. A lack of clean water, decent toilets, and hygiene claim the lives of around 800 children under 5 every day, and in total, around 829,000 lives every year. These deaths fail to reach the headlines, in part because they predominately occur in poorer communities.
Now climate change is aggravating the sanitation crisis. Extreme weather – floods, powerful cyclones, rising temperatures, prolonged droughts – are causing irreparable damage to weak sanitation systems and causing illnesses to spread further in vulnerable communities. An estimated 250,000 additional deaths per year are predicted between 2030 and 2050 due to climate change, and many of these deaths will be linked to poor sanitation.
WaterAid is calling for urgent action from governments and the international community to increase investment in sanitation services. Safe, reliable, and inclusive sanitation services help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The international charity is encouraging governments to include ambitious sanitation plans in their climate change adaptation strategies, so communities are better prepared to withstand the impacts of climate change.