The Environmental Sanitation Crisis: Top Problems and Their Solutions

Environmental sanitation is a crisis nothing short of epic. The challenges involved in providing adequate facilities and technologies to maintain proper personal hygiene across populations and countries are staggering, to say the least.

A look at the current world population offers stunning insight into the problem: Each fraction of a second that passes, another person appears, requiring that many more resources to feed, house, clothe and clean everyone. It’s easy to become intimidated by the issue; it’s easy to want to look elsewhere and ignore the problem.

That kind of thinking, however, has only made the issue worse. Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source.” Additionally, “An estimated 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation (more than 35% of the world’s population).” It hardly bears saying that this is a massive crisis, affecting both adults and, especially, vulnerable children.

Recently, leaders such as Bill Gates have stepped up to the plate to provide solutions to an issue that threatens most developing countries and even some developed ones. While their ideas have proven helpful indeed, much more is needed to ensure the world’s peoples stay safe, secure and healthy. Let’s take a closer look at the issue.

What is the Environmental Sanitation Crisis?

The environmental sanitation crisis is wide-reaching. Almost two centuries after the sanitary revolution in Europe, in which sewer systems were installed and human waste stopped remaining where it was deposited in large amounts, much of the rest of the world still suffers.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2017, only 45% of the global population, or roughly 3.4 billion people, had access to a “safely managed sanitation system.” An additional 2.4 billion people used private sanitation facilities connected to sewers and wastewater treatment facilities. And a full billion people used latrines, where human waste never leaves the site. That essentially amounts to using a Porta Potty daily, for all needs. Parents must toilet-train their children there, healthy people must follow sick people in, and there is limited privacy. The situation is, quite simply, inhumane.

Some people don’t even have that much. The WHO estimates that almost 675 million people still defecate right in the open: behind bushes, in gutters, and into rivers. From there, the waste flows downstream and right into the water supply of others.

Part of the problem is that when addressing the needs of developing countries, many well-intentioned individuals and organizations focus on water supply alone, or prioritize it so significantly that sanitation gets neglected. Yet the two are separate systems. Without adequate infrastructure for removing waste, affected populations continue to sicken and die from hygiene-related problems, diarrhea prime among them.

The Benefits of Improving Sanitation Today

Environmental sanitation leads to more than just a cleaner environment. There are a huge number of benefits to addressing the crisis across the globe. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Saving children. Diarrhea, much of which results from poor sanitation, kills nearly 2,200 children every day. That’s more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, says the CDC.
  • Bettering education. Without adequate access to sanitation facilities, many areas are unable to set up and maintain schools. The inevitable result is that children don’t get educations and usually do not rise above their current situation.
  • Supporting gender equality. Education also increases gender equality in communities, empowering women and leading to more productive lives for all.
  • Enhancing economies. When people are less affected by killing diseases such as diarrhea – which even at the best of times often make work impossible – populations have a greater ability to provide for themselves, work and innovate. The result is an enhanced economy and better global standing for the region or country as a whole.
  • Improving maternal health: The toll of poor sanitation is high on mothers as well as their children. Making it easier for parents to care for their offspring is a major benefit.

Enhancing environmental sanitation facilities also makes it easier to fight other diseases, such as AIDS, malaria, cholera and more. Plus, such facilities decrease the human footprint on the environment. But only if we put good strategies in place.

Possible Strategies to Help Alleviate the Crisis

As one study pointed out more than a decade ago, “Community-led bottom-up approaches, rather than supply-led or technology-driven approaches, are most effective in increasing and sustaining access to sanitation but need to be implemented at scale.”

One such technique that has had good success is Community-Led Total Sanitation. This is an environmental sanitation approach based not on abstract health concepts, which frequently don’t reach people who have practiced poor hygiene, such as open defecation, for generations. The program teaches self-respect rather than hygiene, engendering disgust in unsanitary behaviors that slowly change the population's viewpoint to increase environmental sanitation overall.

Programs such as this rely on tools to carry out better hygiene. That means organizations dedicated to environmental sanitation must provide toilets and facilities that such populations can construct and maintain themselves. Concerned groups also need to provide the equipment to monitor sanitation.

Learn About Weber Scientific

At Weber Scientific, our goal is to ensure that you have the tools and technologies you need to ensure safety and environmental sanitation. Whether you’re measuring the cleanliness of a sanitation facility for implementation in a developing area or need to keep your own lab pure from contaminants, we can help.