When thinking about sanitation it is helpful to look at where the word itself comes from. Merriam-Webster offers several definitions of the word sanitary, all of them necessary to compose a complete picture of why the Sanitation pillar of the WASH program is so important.
1) of, or relating to, health
2) of, relating to, or used in the disposal especially of domestic waterborne waste
3) characterized by or readily kept in cleanliness
Now let’s take a closer at each of these ideas and how they relate to our work.
Of, or relating to, health
This definition gives us a clear reason why this is part of the WASH program. Helping people become and remain healthy is the ultimate goal of all branches of WASH.
Of, or relating to, or used in the disposal especially of domestic waterborne waste
This definition focuses a bit more on how we go about achieving the WASH goal. Disposal of waterborne waste is a major problem in areas around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 2.5 billion people lack basic sanitation – that’s more than 35% of the world’s population! Nearly 1 billion people still practice open defecation which fuels the spread of disease, including cholera, typhoid, worms and trachoma. This results in an environment, both land and water, contaminated by human waste.
While there are multiple ways to tackle this problem, HRI targets a few relatively simple solutions. In Haiti, we are working to build both adequate latrines and install flush toilets in orphanages that do not already have them. This is especially important in these orphanages since children are more susceptible to disease and the potentially devastating long-term effects.
In the communities where we work in Guatemala, most people do not have access to a latrine and the few that exist are inadequate. However, HRI has identified a culturally responsive compost toilet designed in Guatemala that shows great promise in bringing sanitation to many communities in desperate need. We hope to be able to implement this system in the near future.
Characterized by or readily kept in cleanliness
This definition demonstrates the importance of keeping an eye on the long term. Just providing access to toilets and latrines doesn’t solve the problem. People must choose to use them as well as maintain them. This is where education plays its role. Teaching children and community members the how and why is just as important as the installation of adequate toilets and other infrastructure. Education is all about behavior change. For instance, when someone is supplied with a clean bucket for clean water, providing the bucket isn’t enough. We must also ensure that people know why a clean bucket is important and how to keep their bucket clean, so clean drinking water will never go into a dirty bucket.
We can see how Sanitation and Water work together to form the first two pillars of WASH: Providing access to the clean water everyone needs on a daily basis and ensuring that what is available doesn’t become contaminated. Keep following our WASH blog series to see how Hygiene completes the WASH picture and helps create cleaner, healthier futures.
Contributed by: Caitlin Barnett