Burden of Disease Attributable to Unsafe Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2019 Update

A new report, titled “Burden of disease attributable to unsafe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2019 update” was released recently by the WHO. It sheds light on the alarming number of deaths and the lack of access to basic WASH services worldwide.  

WASH-Related Child Mortality 

Unsafe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene practices are responsible for a devastating toll, causing approximately 395,000 deaths among children under five years of age. The two leading infectious causes of death in this vulnerable age group are diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections. 

Global Water and Sanitation Disparities 

A staggering 771 million people worldwide lack access to safe water, while 1.7 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. These disparities contribute to the substantial health burden faced by communities worldwide. 

Soil-Transmitted Helminthiases (STH) 

An estimated 1.5 billion people, constituting 24% of the global population, are affected by soil-transmitted helminthiases (STH). These diseases, transmitted through poor sanitation practices, disproportionately impact low- and lower-middle-income countries. 

Undernutrition and Unsafe WASH 

Unsafe WASH conditions contribute to undernutrition, with 10% of the burden among children under five being attributed to these factors. This represents a total of 8,000 deaths and 825,000 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) within this age group. 

Regional Disparities 

Most WASH-attributable deaths were reported in the WHO African and South-East Asia regions. In LMICs, over 505,000 deaths in 2019 were attributable to unsafe drinking water, and in the Americas region, diarrheal diseases claimed the lives of 33,200 people. 

Progress and Challenges 

Despite the challenges, several countries have made progress in improving WASH access. For example, Jordan saw an 11 percentage point increase in coverage for drinking-water services from 2015 to 2020. However, substantial efforts are still required to address the global disparities. 



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