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Prepared for Water, Sanitation and Health. Written by Dr. Rosalind Stanwell Smith and reviewed by the Water and Sanitation Programme, World Bank and the Water, Sanitation and Health Unit (WSH), World Health Organization (WHO)
© 2001–2003, 2002 WHO

Sanitation: Controlling problems at source


  Table of contents

Wherever humans gather, their waste also accumulates. Progress in sanitation and improved hygiene has greatly improved health, but many people still have no adequate means of disposing of their waste. This is a growing nuisance for heavily populated areas, carrying the risk of infectious disease, particularly to vulnerable groups such as the very young, the elderly and people suffering from diseases that lower their resistance. Poorly controlled waste also means daily exposure to an unpleasant environment. The build up of faecal contamination in rivers and other waters is not just a human risk: other species are affected, threatening the ecological balance of the environment.

The discharge of untreated wastewater and excreta into the environment affects human health by several routes:

  • By polluting drinking water
  • Entry into the food chain, for example via fruits, vegetables or fish and shellfish
  • Bathing, recreational and other contact with contaminated waters
  • By providing breeding sites for flies and insects that spread diseases
  • Poor nutrition from loss of important fish protein sources due to environmental pollution

Used carefully, wastewater and excreta are valuable resources and increasingly important for agriculture and aquaculture, particularly in countries with insufficient water resources. Climate change, threatening water supplies in both water rich and water poor countries, has raised the issues of wastewater use worldwide. This fact sheet focuses on:

  • People and waste: the size of the problem
  • Wastewater and excreta: hazards or resources? including diseases linked to waste
  • How sanitation prevents disease
  • Sanitation Options
  • Using human waste, overcoming barriers

Sanitation: Controlling problems at source: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 | Next page

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