When spending a penny means saving a life

Toilets are not the most glamorous cause to get involved in – they certainly don’t have the dinner party panache of say promoting literacy or distributing shoes to needy children, but they probably save more lives and have a greater impact on a developing country’s GDP.

Today is World Water Day, part of the United Nationals Year of Water Cooperation which focuses on bringing sanitation and fresh water to as much of the world as possible.
Investing in sanitation makes sound economic sense, with about a $9 return for every $1 spent.

washing hands

Hand-washing and hygienic, private toilets in homes and schools bring economic benefits for households, communities, and nations in several ways:

1. By saving time
People without toilets at home spend a great deal of time each day queuing up for public toilets or seeking secluded spots to defecate.

2. By reducing direct and indirect health costs
The costs of treating diarrhoeal disease drain both national budgets and family finances, and avoiding them frees resources for other development objectives. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where, on a typical day, half the hospital beds are occupied by people afflicted with faecal-borne disease, treating preventable infectious diarrhoea consumes 12 percent of the total health budget.

3. By increasing the return on investments in education
Many developing countries are increasing education spending to meet targets for school enrolment. That spending will have a greater impact if some of the money goes to providing toilets for students and teachers, with separate facilities for girls.

This is particularly important because girls are reluctant to attend schools, and parents are disinclined to send them, if there are no safe, private toilets for them to use. This is particularly true once menstruation has begun. But more girls in school means higher rates of female literacy. In a typical developing country, each 1 per cent increase in female secondary results in a 0.3 per cent increase schooling results in a 0.3 per cent increase in economic growth because girls who are educated are better protected from exploitation and AIDS, less likely to die during childbirth and more likely to raise a healthy baby.

4. By safeguarding water resources
Agriculture, fish production, energy production, large-scale industrial processes, small-scale industry, transport and recreation all suffer economic harm from the increased treatment and other costs due to water pollution by faecal contamination.

5. By boosting tourism revenues
Tourism generates more than $ 6,000 billion-worth of economic activity, accounting for 10 per cent of global GDP and almost 9 per cent of total global employment. Because health, safety, and aesthetic considerations heavily influence people’s choice of a holiday destination, good sanitation is a pre-requisite for a thriving tourism sector.

UN water cop logo


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