While food and water top the list of essentials for health and human development, around 1 billion people still go hungry, and nearly 1 billion still lacked access to an improved water source.
The opportunity to explore the relationship between these two essentials is drawing thousands of academics and practitioners from the food and water sectors to Stockholm for World Water Week, August 26-31. This year, the annual conference will focus on “Water and Food Security.” It’s an important topic. Access to food and safe, clean water is critical to every aspect of human life—agriculture, education, energy, health, and many others. However, there is another urgent issue that gets less attention but is equally critical: sanitation.
Sanitation—a fundamental means for preventing disease and elevating quality of life—has long been considered neglected in the sector. Since 2002, when sanitation was added to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), sanitation activities and practitioners have increased global awareness of the role sanitation plays in improving human health and well-being.
"The issue of sanitation is about health and economic loss, but it’s also an issue of equity and human rights," said Lead Sanitation Specialist Eddy Perez of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank. "It’s the poorest people who do not have basic access, which contributes to keeping them poor."
An estimated 1.7 million people die each year because of unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and unhygienic practices; about 90 percent of those deaths are children under age five. Improvements to sanitation and access to clean drinking water could reduce diarrheal disease by nearly 90 percent. The economic toll of poor sanitation is equally staggering, as high as 7 percent of GDP in some countries. And while sanitation has received more attention in recent years, there is still more learning needed on the most effective approaches and at-scale service delivery models.