Water, sanitation and health

Water has a profound effect on human health both as a means to reduce disease and a media through which disease-causing agents may be transmitted. The impact of water on health derives principally from the consumption of water containing pathogenic organisms or toxic chemicals and the use of inadequate volumes of water that lead to poor hygiene. A recent WHO document “safer water, better health” states that almost one tenth of the global burden of disease could be prevented by improving water, sanitation and hygiene and about 8.4% of our South-East Asia regional burden of disease could be prevented by these interventions. In SEAR, about 1.1 million people mostly children die from diarrheal diseases. The cost –benefit analysis study of water supply, sanitation and hygiene interventions carried out by WHO highlights that in our Region these interventions could save 1.3 billion productive days ad 139 million school days each year with less diarrheal illnesses.

water and sanitation challenges

  • The South-East Asia region has already met its MDG target of drinking water, however, the safety of drinking water remains an issue due to many factors that affect water quality.
  • Many countries in the region are still lagging behind in achieving their sanitation MDG targets.
  • Rapid population growth, economic development and globalisation are leading to the generation of millions of tonnes of solid waste and many countries are facing severe problems in managing them.
  • Open burning of wastes is still practiced in many countries, which leads to air pollution especially when hazardous wastes containing heavy metals, plastics, and rubber are burnt. Managemetn of hazardous wastes from health facilities and e-waste require special attention.

Aim and objectives of the program

WHO and its member states have identifed water and sanitation as one of the components of primary health care. In accordance with this principle, WHO works on aspects of water, sanitation and hygiene where the health burden is high, where interventions could make a major difference and where the present state of knowledge is poor. The aim of WSH program is to reduce water, sanitation and waste related diseases in the region and optimization of health benefits of sustainable water and waste management. The objectives are to support the health sector and other sectors in effectively addressing water- and waste-related disease burden and in engaging others in its reduction and to assist non-health sectors in understanding and acting on the health impacts of their actions.

The WSH unit supports member states in the following areas:

  • Drinking water quality management by supporting in the development of water quality standards, monitoring and surveillance systems and introduction of water safety plans as a risk assessment and risk management approach in ensuring drinking water quality.
  • Capacity building and piloting of sound health-care waste management options
  • Providing guidance in the safe reuse of waste water and develop capacity of national program managers
  • Supporting in the identification and testing of water and sanitation technologies that are appropriate, sustainable and affordable
  • Promoting safe water, sanitation, hygiene and sound waste management in health-care facilities
  • Research on water, sanitation and health

Safe sanitation

WHO 2018 Sanitation and Health Guidelines

Guidelines on sanitation and health

The UN Secretrary-General and Prime Minister of India look on as the WHO Deputy Director-General launches the WHO Guidelines on Sanitation and Health, 1 Oct 2018

Contact Us

Alexander von Hildebrand
Regional Advisor i.a.
Water & Sanitation
World Health Organization
Regional Office for South-East Asia
email: hildebrandal@who.int