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Safe drinking water and sanitation are important determinants of human health and well-being and were recently declared as basic human rights by the international community.
An estimated 780 million people still lacked safe drinking water in 2010. The Global water crisis claims 3.4 million lives each year. In many countries, women are responsible for finding and fetching water for their families. In rural India some women walk several hours a day to fetch water, which is used for cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing, care of animals, food production and waste disposal. The work is back-breaking and all-consuming. Often the water is contaminated, even deadly.
Once they are old enough, girls join this effort. They spend countless hours trying to provide this basic life necessity. There is no denying the fact that today water and sanitation is on everyone's agenda and the need to tackle such issues are stronger than ever before. Both safe drinking water and sanitation yield greater benefits at the household level than the community level. The dual aspects of the water crisis – lack of water and of sanitation – lock women in a cycle of poverty. Safe drinking water and better sanitation facilities can lead to improved health of women and girls and reduce child and maternal mortality.
Nearly 36% of the world's population – 2.5 billion people – lack access to adequate sanitation systems. Of the 1.1 billion people who still practice open defecation, the vast majority (949 million) live in rural areas. Large numbers of people practice open defecation – 626 million in India, 7.2 million in Brazil and in other countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, Nepal and Mozambique.
A child dies every 2.5 minutes in the world, because of unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Everyday more than 3000 children die from diarrheal diseases. In India alone, roughly 450,000 children under the age of 5 die each year from diseases contracted by drinking contaminated water due to enteric illnesses caused by bacteria, protozoans and viruses in water that are contaminated with human and animal feces. Preventing this would go a long way in saving children's lives. The link between the practice of open defecation and childhood stunting is also well established.
Throughout all life stages, women and girls bear the greatest burden caused by the lack of toilet access. Women and girls risk harassment and sexual abuse when trying to use public toilets or when trying to find a place after dark to defecate in the open.
Poor sanitation, water and hygiene have many serious repercussions. Children – and particularly girls – are denied their right to education because their schools lack private and decent sanitation facilities. They are more likely to drop-out of schools if they don't have access to a safe and clean toilet.