Sewage treatment plant in Mongolia

The challenges in the field of sanitation are enormous. According to a UN report from July 2017, 4.5 billion people worldwide have no access to safe toilet facilities. They have no adequate sanitation facilities, for which arrangements for the disposal of faeces must also be in place. The international community has long underestimated this challenge. UN reports dating from before 2017 were still speaking of 2.5 billion people having no access to safe toilet facilities.

Diarrhoeal diseases are the main cause of death among the under-fives, costing the lives of roughly 520,000 children a year. Most of these deaths are caused by unsafe water and poor hygiene. Poor sanitation is the main reason for water being polluted with pathogens.

The issue of sanitation has been receiving increasing international attention in recent years – not least owing to the unceasing and intensive efforts of the German government. In December 2015, the United Nations adopted resolution 70/169, in which, for the first time, the right to sanitation is mentioned as an independent human right alongside the right to water.

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations have set themselves the ambitious goal of giving all people worldwide adequate sanitation by 2030. Compared with the Millennium Development Goals, the benchmark has been set much higher, because this SDG covers the entire waste chain – from toilet to transport and treatment to recycling.

Sanitation in cities

A worker at the wastewater treatment plant in Tanga, Tanzania, adjusting water inflow into the basins

In many parts of the world, cities are growing at a breathtaking rate. This rapid growth comes with risks, but also with considerable opportunities to establish new ideas and approaches. Sewage sludge from waste water treatment can, for example, be processed together with solid waste and used as a source of biogas, which helps reduce the use of fossil fuels and lower carbon dioxide emissions.

German development cooperation is about integrated approaches. Among other things, this involves including water protection zones in urban and land use planning. Proper sanitation and waste water treatment need to be given special attention, especially in areas close to wells, so that faeces and untreated industrial or hospital effluents are not able to get into the groundwater. Such integrated approaches require close cooperation between the various actors involved at municipal level and a shared understanding of the challenges involved.

Sanitation as a closed-loop cycle

German development cooperation projects aim to promote ecological sanitation systems. These are systems that use wastewater and faeces to generate energy (biogas), irrigation water and fertilisers. It is an intelligent way of using waste products as a resource (Waste to Resource).

In its development cooperation projects, Germany seeks to promote closed-loop cycles in waste and wastewater management, believing that this offers opportunities for sustainable urban development.

Sanitation, education and health

Children at a school in Tanzania, standing in a row and washing their hands

Poor sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water are factors that contribute to the spread of infectious diseases, especially among children. German development cooperation therefore puts a focus on ensuring safe water supply and on child hygiene. Campaigns aim to raise people's awareness of the importance of hygiene measures such as washing hands and using clean toilets.

In addition, other activities are used to create environmental awareness for the protection and conservation of water resources. Practices that have proven successful are integrated into school life and are made part of the curriculum. Toilets and sanitation are often regarded as taboo topics. That is why the BMZ supports civil society organisations that engage in outreach activities to draw public attention to these topics.

Sanitation, hygiene and food security

Good water supply and sanitation facilities can help prevent diseases. Hygienic conditions especially during the first 1,000 days of a child's life are important for its development. Poor hygiene can cause huge problems, such as developmental deficits and underweight.

But sanitation also plays a crucial role when it comes to food security. Wastewater contains important nutrients which can be captured by using innovative technologies and then reused in agriculture for the production of food.

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