Health gains from clean drinking water lost to poor sanitation: WHO

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on March 06, 2017

India has cause to pat its back as a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) puts India in the league of countries with the one of the best access to improved drinking water sources. That said, the country is also falling in the second worst quintile in child mortality.

Much of the gains made by the access to improved drinking water (94 per cent of the population) have been undercut by the poor access to sanitation. The WHO report — ‘Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment’ — estimates that in 2015, over 40 per cent of the population defecated in the open.

“This carries great risks for children and women: infectious diseases, malnutrition and violence,” the report noted, even while lauding the government’s mission to end open defecation under the Swacch Bharat Mission. The report was released in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.

“In addition to diarrhoea, poor sanitation is the underlying cause of many neglected tropical diseases, including schistosomiasis and trachoma. Soil-transmitted helminths, a class of intestinal worms, are particularly common among children, and can cause malnutrition, slow weight gain and impaired mental development,” the report says.

Collective behaviour

Another companion report by WHO, ‘Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health,’ estimates that promoting sanitation practices, such as handwashing, have huge potential economic impacts for the country.

“National behaviour change handwashing programmes in India and China would produce large economic gains from reduced diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections such as a 92-fold return to investment in India and a 35-fold return to investment in China,” it estimates.

The reports, which focus on child health, also bring back attention to degraded environment, pollution and the health impacts of the same.

Respiratory infections, which are strongly linked to poor air quality — both outdoor and indoor pollution — is the biggest killer for children, attributable to 32 per cent of childhood diseases globally, leaving behind diarrhoeal deaths (caused by poor sanitation practices) which comes in second at 22 per cent. Respiratory infections are responsible for over 5.7 lakh children dying annually across the world, the report says while diarrhoea claims 3.6 lakh young lives.

As of 2012, the report notes, deaths of nearly 250 children out of every lakh could be attributed to poor environment in India.

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Published on March 06, 2017
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