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Water and sanitation

Access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right. Water is a prerequisite for all life on earth and for sustainable development. Sida contributes to increase access to clean water and toilets and to improve opportunities for people to manage their personal hygiene.

Progress has been made

Better access to drinking water

Since 2000 the number of people lacking clean drinking water has decreased from 1.1 billion to 785 million, according to the WHO. 

More toilets

According to UNICEF, between 2000 and 2017, 2.1 billion people gained access to basic sanitation such as latrines or toilets.

Challenges remain

Lack of toilets leads to contaminated water

Globally, 4.2 billion people lack access to functioning toilets or latrines. According to the WHO, 673 million people practise open defecation, which is a contributory factor to why 2 billion people use a drinking water resource contaminated by human faeces. 

Many schools lack water access

Almost 900 million children lack access to clean water and a toilet that handles waste safely in their schools, according to WHO.

Dirty water kills

Every day, over 800 children under the age of five die from diarrhoea caused by dirty water and leaking sewage pipes, according to WaterAid. This equates to one child every minute.

Sida's work with water and sanitation

Some 785 million people – one in ten of the world’s population – currently lack access to clean water. Globally, one in four people do not have access to a toilet in their home. According to the WHO, 3 billion people around the world have no possibility of maintaining good personal hygiene in the home.

 One of the greatest global threats to the health of children is diseases associated with dirty water and poor sanitation, such as diarrhoea and cholera. According to UNICEF, children living in protracted conflicts are three times more likely to die from water-related diseases than from violence.

 There are many underlying causes of water scarcity: drought, desertification, war and conflict, as well as the high cost of obtaining water in, for example, urban slums. According to a report published by the UN in 2018, almost half of the world’s population will suffer severe water stress by 2030 if environmental destruction continues and we go on using our water resources in an unsustainable manner.

Clean water, sanitation and hygiene

Clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are important factors in remaining healthy. Without access to clean water, sanitation and the means to maintain personal hygiene societal development is impossible and it becomes harder to combat poverty. Without access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene women cannot give birth safely. Without the means to maintain personal hygiene during menstruation, girls cannot attend school.

Recycling wastewater in Bolivia

Recently, 570,000 litres of sewage ran directly into the Cliza River – every day. Local NGO Aguatuya has built a water treatment plant in Cliza with the aid of Swedish technology. As a result of this project almost all of the wastewater is now treated and can be reused in agriculture. Through UNICEF, Sida is also contributing to an investment in composting toilets in both urban and rural areas of Bolivia. This investment improves water quality and increases access to toilets.

Aquatuya web page

Increasing access to sanitation

Without access to clean water and sanitation, there is an increased risk that people, and children in particular, will contract diseases. Through UNICEF and the multi-donor trust fund Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP), Sida contributes to providing more people with access to clean water and toilets. Sida also provides humanitarian aid for UNICEF initiatives to provide people with improved access to sanitation.

About Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership on the World Bank web page

Global impact on access to water and sanitation

In order to increase access to water and sanitation, Sida collaborates at global level with the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), the Water Integrity Network (WIN), UNICEF’s programme Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and WaterAid Sweden. Sida also cooperates with the Global Water Partnership (GWP), UN-Water, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

Gender equality

Globally, millions of women are severely affected by a lack of access to clean water or safe, private toilets. For both cultural and historical reasons, the main responsibility for fetching water generally falls to women and girls (in 8 out of 10 households without direct access to water).

Every day, around the world approximately 300 million people are menstruating. The beliefs and taboos surrounding menstruation often lead to women and girls being prevented from fully participating in social, school and working life.

Increasing opportunities for girls to attend school

Half of all schools in low-income countries lack safe, functioning toilets. Every day, millions of girls and women are forced to stay home from school because they are menstruating. The lack of toilets and clean water causes many girls to miss lessons during their periods. UNICEF works to improve menstrual hygiene for teenage girls around the world. Improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene in schools increases girls’ opportunities to complete their education.

About the work for menstrual hygiene at the UNICEF web page

Clean water and sanitation in Zimbabwe

A lack of clean water claims an enormous amount of people’s time; for example, women in some parts of Zimbabwe save a full four hours of work every day simply by having access to clean water close to home. Through the  Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund, Sida contributes to creating sustainable jobs for women and young people, improving access to clean drinking water and toilets and increasing the influence of women and young people over decision-making at a local level.

Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund web page

Malian women’s cooperative improves hand hygiene

In Samabogo, Mali, through WaterAid Sida is supporting a women’s cooperative that manufactures and sells soap. The women produce 240 bars of soap a day – soap that acts as the first line of defence against infectious diseases. The women also receive training and access to loans for buying equipment and raw materials to get production up and running. The women’s cooperative also disseminates information on the importance of good hygiene to other communities.

About the work in Mali at the WaterAid web page

Access to water in conflict and disaster zones

Conflicts, disasters, mismanagement and climate change all have a negative impact on the world’s water resources. Armed conflict also causes many people to flee to areas lacking in clean water and toilets.

Climate change is predicted to lead to an increase in droughts and flooding, which in turn will lead to more people fleeing their homes.

Water and sanitation for refugees in Bangladesh

People live tightly packed in the refugee camps of Bangladesh, leaving them particularly vulnerable to the spread of infection. WaterAid is working in Bangladesh to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene for those living in informal settlements.

About the work at the WaterAid web page

Increasing access to clean water in Venezuela

Venezuela is in the midst of a severe humanitarian crisis that among other things has reduced access to clean water and sanitation. Through Action Against Hunger, Sida contributes humanitarian aid to increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

About the work at the Action Against Hunger web page

Scope and governance of Sida's work for water and sanitation

90 percent of Sida’s work within water and health has gender equality as a sub- or main objective.

Sida’s work is governed by a strategy for global development cooperation within sustainable social development, as well as a number of bilateral and regional strategies.

Strategy for Sweden’s global development cooperation in sustainable social development 2018 – 2022 at the Swedish government web page

Updated: 11 October 2021