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New Report Says Sanitation Saves Lives, Money in Developing Countries

A new report out Monday says the benefits of investing in sanitation in developing countries far exceed the costs. It says every dollar invested in sanitation brings nine dollars in benefits, such as improved health and economy.

The report, called “Sanitation and Economic Development,” was published by the group WaterAid and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). It says poor sanitation leads to disease, which in turn has direct consequences for families, employers and the overall economy of a country.

Patricia Dandonoli is the president and CEO of WaterAid America. She says about $34 billion a year is needed to ensure sanitation and clean water in developing countries. From Los Angeles, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the benefits of investing in sanitation.

“I think it’s much more obvious for people to understand why clean water is essential. It’s understood as a basic necessity for survival. But what’s less understood is that having access to the safe water for drinking purposes alone doesn’t achieve the health outcome that we are looking for that will also trigger increases in livelihood, productivity, wealth, getting people out of poverty. The benefits from safe water are enhanced greatly if people have access to a safe way of disposing [of] feces and enough water so that they can use the water not only for drinking and cooking, but for bathing and keeping their bodies, clothes and environment clean,” she says.

What happens in a country If sanitation is not addressed? Dandonoli says, “When people have no place to dispose of feces in a safe way, they resort to whatever opportunity is available, which typically means open defecation. In rural areas that means in open in the fields and in urban areas; unfortunately, it means directly into an open sewer in a row between the houses or directly into the water supply. In the rural areas what happens of course is that the feces run off when there’s rain and contaminate the very drinking water people are looking to to stay healthy.”

Bad sanitation also has a direct effect on women in poor countries. “Because of the stigma attached to open defecation and the fact that there’s no safe private place to relieve themselves, it means that they wait until the cover of darkness, basically holding in the need to defecate for hours. And when they are able to go out they are sometimes subject to threats of violence and rape and attack,” she says.

Poor sanitation can lead to disease such as diarrhea, which is a leading cause of death of children under age five in development countries. She asks when the last time was that anyone heard of a child dying of diarrhea in rich nations.