The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched global guidelines in an effort to set a universal standard for sanitation by 2030.

The WHO wants every person in the world has access to toilets that safely contain excreta by 2030, but warns this will not happen unless countries make comprehensive policy shifts and invest more funds.

The authorities want new guidelines to reduce the 829,000 annual diarrhoeal deaths due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene.

For every US$1 invested in sanitation, WHO estimates a nearly six-fold return as measured by lower health costs, increased productivity and fewer premature deaths.

Worldwide, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation and almost half are forced to defecate in the open.

They are among the 4.5 billion are without access to safely managed sanitation services – even a toilet connected to a sewer or pit or septic tank that treats human waste.

“Without proper access, millions of people the world over are deprived of the dignity, safety and convenience of a decent toilet,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director-General for Programmes, WHO. 

“Sanitation is a fundamental foundation of human health and development and underpins the core mission of WHO and ministries of health worldwide.  WHO’s Sanitation and Health Guidelines are essential to securing health and wellbeing for everyone, everywhere.”

WHO developed the new guidelines on sanitation and health because current sanitation programmes are not achieving anticipated health gains and there is a lack of authoritative health-based guidance on sanitation.

“Billions of people live without access to even the most basic sanitation services,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, WHO.

“The transmission of a host of diseases, including cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio, is linked to dirty water and inadequately treated sewage. Poor sanitation is also a major factor in transmission of neglected tropical diseases such as intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma, as well as contributing to malnutrition.”

The new guidelines set out four principal recommendations:

  • Sanitation interventions should ensure entire communities have access to toilets that safely contain excreta
  • The full sanitation system should be undergo local health risk assessments to protect individuals and communities from exposure to excreta – whether this be from unsafe toilets, leaking storage or inadequate treatment
  • Sanitation should be integrated into regular local government-led planning and service provision to avert the higher costs associated with retrofitting sanitation and to ensure sustainability
  • The health sector should invest more and play a coordinating role in sanitation planning to protect public health

The full guidelines are accessible here.