A new report by WHO and UNICEF, released Friday on Global Handwashing Day, reveals that giving everyone in the world’s poorest countries access to hand washing with soap and water, would cost around $11 billion.
That would transform the life-chances of people who are currently unable to simply wash their hands at home.
“Millions of lives could be saved and billions of dollars in untapped economic potential could be unlocked for the equivalent of just $1.40 per head of the global population”, discloses WaterAid East Africa in a statement.
Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole, Regional Director of WaterAid in East Africa said: “Promoting handwashing has proven to be cost-effective. Investments in health, education, and improved water supply are all jeopardized if handwashing with soap is not included in national development plans. In East Africa, WaterAid has partnered with national and local governments in enhancing access to hand hygiene in public places such as schools, hospitals, and markets.”
“More recently, we worked with national Governments, WASH networks and the East Africa Community (EAC) to construct WASH facilities in six border points across the region, which has been critical in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As G20 leaders prepare to gather in Rome to improve pandemic preparedness, WaterAid warns that government investment must be made to provide hand washing for all as it plays a critical role in the fight against preventable diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections.
Three in 10 people worldwide cannot wash with soap and water at home, and at current rates of progress, 1.9 billion people – families and children – will still be unable to so by 2030, according to latest estimates from WHO and UNICEF.
WaterAid’s recent analysis in its Mission Critical report concluded that trillions of dollars could be unlocked over the next two decades through universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Achieving this could generate a net benefit of $45 billion per year, and even just providing a tap in every household could yield $37 billion annually.
WaterAid warned on Friday that progress is worryingly slow. For everyone to be able to wash their hands at home by 2030, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, governments needs to make progress at least four times faster than they currently are.
However, the economic value of hand washing for all, alongside water and sanitation services, is vastly underestimated by governments, business and donors, resulting in chronic under-investments.
Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene brings multiple wins for governments, WaterAid says: it is value for money, it helps achieve health targets and it increases productivity to support economic growth. If governments invested in even basic water, hygiene and toilets it would bring a return on investment of up to 21 times the cost.
The provision of basic water services could save women and girls the equivalent of 77 million working days per year that they currently spend on fetching water, increasing their life and work options and greatly contributing towards gender equality.
Good hygiene can reduce diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases at low cost, improving people’s health, reducing the costs of healthcare and freeing up people’s productive time.
Achieving universal access to hygiene services by 2040 could prevent 96 million cases of diarrhoeal disease and 160 million respiratory infections each year. This equates to less than $10 spent to avoid each case.