Sanitation and water

Sanitation refers to the cleanliness of an environment; most people think of sanitation in terms of water supply and sewage systems. Sanitation is a key element of a healthy environment; although most people in the UK enjoy high standards of sanitation, millions of people across the world live in areas where sanitation is very poor. 

Why is sanitation important?

Sanitation is very important because it prevents the spread of hundreds of different types of bacteria, viruses and parasites; all of these microorganisms contribute to health conditions, which in poorer places where medical care is basic and resources are stretched, may prove to be fatal. Good sanitation aids successful growth and development and provides a much safer and more pleasant environment for people to live in.  

What are the effects of poor sanitation?

Poor sanitation can contribute to a number of health conditions, as well as making an environment very unpleasant for people to live and grow up in. Examples of illnesses associated with poor sanitation include:

  • Diarrhoea: this is the most common illness caused by diarrhoea; in poorer countries, diarrhoea claims millions of lives each year.
  • Cholera: cholera is a water-borne disease that affects the intestines.
  • Typhoid: typhoid is spread via contact with faeces; it is caused by a bacterial infection.
  • Hepatitis A: this condition affects the liver; it is caused by a viral infection.

Sanitation in the UK

Sanitation is very good in the UK, with 96 percent of UK households connected to the main sewer systems. Diseases related to poor sanitation are consequently almost non-existent.  

What is being done to improve sanitation in developing countries?

Several charities have joined forces with governments in developed countries to improve standards of sanitation abroad; each day, thousands of volunteers are working hard to improve water supplies and allow millions of people to access clean water. Charities such as WaterAid, UNICEF and Oxfam are working in conjunction with the United Nations and the World Health Organisation to improve sewer systems, build more toilets and increase the number of clean water outlets across the developing world; this work will help to save millions of lives. Volunteers are also educating people and communities about the importance of good personal hygiene; this involves teaching them about washing, preparing food and going to the toilet.  

Guide to Environmental Health

Environmental Health

Air pollution

Chemical safety

Food poisoning

Health and natural disasters

Sanitation and water

Health in the workplace


Chemical Burn

Carbon monoxide poisoning