Access to sanitation is a fundamental human right recognized by the United Nations, that provides benefits across all of society and allows every man, woman and child to live healthy and dignified lives. However, despite this, the world is off-track to deliver sanitation for all by 2030.

Achieving universal access by 2030 will require acceleration in current rates of progress.

  • 4.2

    people use sanitation systems that leave human waste untreated.

  • 2.3

    people still do not have access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines

  • Of these, 892 MILLION
    continue to practice open defecation, i.e., in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water, contributing to spreading of fecal borne diseases.

  • At least
    of the world’s population is thought to consume food irrigated by wastewater.

Sanitation by numbers

Spotlight on Africa

Africa has a long way to go to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water, sanitation and hygiene, especially target 6.2 on sanitation.

Less than 25%
of people have access to adequate sanitation in 16 of the 54 countries in Africa.

of the Sub-Saharan African population practice open defecation.

of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa livewithout access to adequate sanitation


  • Unsafely managed sanitation is estimated to cost over US$220 BILLION a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity and income.

  • The economic benefits of sanitation have been estimated at about FIVE TIMES the cost.

  • Nearly 5% of Africa’s GDP is lost every year as a consequence of contaminated water, lack of water and poor sanitation.


  • 2.6 MILLION people die every year due to water-related diseases and unsanitary living conditions.

  • Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio and exacerbates stunting.

  • Millions of people suffer from neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), many of which are water and/or hygiene-related. These diseases are most often found in places with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene practices.

  • Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness and results from poor hygiene and sanitation.


Strong political will is key to accelerate prioritization of and investment in the sanitation sector.

  • Few countries have formally approved, comprehensive and adequately funded sanitation policies. Of the 40 African countries that participated in the UN-GLAAS survey in 2018/2019, only 18 countries reported having approved urban and rural sanitation policies.

  • Sanitation policies that incorporate local realities and consider the specific needs of women and girls, and those living in vulnerable situations, integrate clear roles and responsibilities and fecal sludge management are essential to achieve SDG 6.2.

  • The African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) led the development of the Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG) to support African countries in the review or development of comprehensive and inclusive sanitation policies. The ASPG will strengthen existing efforts by providing foundational and progressive policy and legal frameworks that can be actively used and adapted to individual countries.


Increasing access to safely managed sanitation will are core to tackle many other public health issues.

  • Safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene could prevent the deaths of 297,000 children aged under 5 every year.

  • Safely managed sanitation facilities will help reduce the severity and impact of malnutrition and diarrheal diseases on children.

  • Equitable and inclusive access to sanitation promotes dignity and boosts safety, particularly for women and girls, and those living in vulnerable situations.

  • Improving sanitation facilities will benefit at least 500 million women and girls globally, who currently lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management.

  • Better management of water resources can reduce transmission of malaria and other vector-borne diseases.

  • Achievement of global targets for control of neglected tropical diseases stand a greater chance of being met.